Wednesday 7 December 2016

Irish minds focused on race for play-off spots

Murphy minded by McCarthy with Ipswich resigned to fate

Published 19/04/2016 | 02:30

Republic of Ireland's Daryl Murphy. Photo: Sportsfile
Republic of Ireland's Daryl Murphy. Photo: Sportsfile

The Championship play-off picture is starting to fall into place and that will have implications for Martin O'Neill's Ireland ahead of Euro 2016.

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A full round of fixtures tonight could confirm the fate of Derby, Hull and Ipswich, all of whom have players that are intending to feature in this summer's French proceedings.

For Ipswich, it's a bad news story as they are eight points off sixth-placed Sheffield Wednesday with four games to go. If they fail to win at home to Fulham and Wednesday take full points from the visit of relegation-bound MK Dons, then Mick McCarthy's charges will be condemned to Championship football next year.

He appears to already be resigned to that eventuality and there has been speculation about his future with Aston Villa mentioned as a possible destination. Ipswich's frugal approach in the transfer market has made it hard for McCarthy to build on last season's excellent performance to reach the play-offs.

In a strange way, the removal of pressure from the final weeks of the season could actually help Daryl Murphy's preparations for France.

Murphy should expect to make Martin O'Neill's 23-man squad but a calf injury sustained against Switzerland last month has curtailed his involvement in club duties. The Waterford man will miss the Fulham match and is doubtful for the weekend trip to Middlesbrough and McCarthy understands that the player will be thinking about a potential career highlight. He is prepared to mind him accordingly.

"The danger is for him as much as anybody," he said yesterday, "The ­European Championships are coming up. Don't get me wrong, he wants to be playing for us but there is a real carrot at the end of the season for him and I'd love him to go and enjoy it because it's a wonderful opportunity.

"The temptation is to try and get back so you're playing and you're in everybody's eyeline, but I think you just make sure he's fit.

"If that's for the last two games or last game, but hopefully he's fit and he'll be ready and able to go there. And he's no good to us if he's not fit anyway."

David McGoldrick will feature in Murphy's absence having come through his first 90 minutes since October in the weekend draw with Sheffield Wednesday which ended level courtesy of a strike from substitute Andre Dozzell - the 16-year-old son of former Premier League player Jason.

Aiden McGeady was absent from the Wednesday side for that game due to injury but manager Carlos Carvalhal says that he will be fit for tonight's MK Dons encounter.

He has failed to set the world alight since joining on loan from Everton but still has time to make an impact.

Realistically, it's Cardiff - not Ipswich - that the Owls are worried about at this stage. Cardiff, who have Anthony Pilkington in their ranks, are five points off Wednesday and a win away to Brentford would keep them in the shake-up.

Derby and Hull will confirm their play-off places if they win away at Bristol City and Reading respectively. That would give Derby's Jeff Hendrick something to look forward to as he continues his recovery from a quad muscle related lay-off. David Meyler's Hull were in the running for one of the two automatic spots but they dropped off that pace.

Showdown

It's now a three-horse race for those coveted places and the top two, Burnley and Middlesbrough, meet at Turf Moor in a seismic showdown. Middlesbrough are two clear of Burnley with Chris Hughton's Brighton a further two points back in third - they host QPR knowing that nothing less than three points will do. Stephen Ward is involved with Burnley and is aiming to avoid any part in the play-off drama, unlike Hendrick, Cyrus Christie, Richard Keogh, Meyler, McGeady and Pilkington.

The final takes place on Saturday May 28 which would mean missing out on the Dublin friendly with Holland and linking up with the squad on the weekend that the final 23 is confirmed - Pilkington is already a long shot to be included with his fitness record.

Ward, Christie and Meyler are trusted squad members but there are permutations which could place them in jeopardy depending on the cover that O'Neill seeks in the full back department.

The best Irish player in the Championship this season, Brentford's Alan Judge, will not be going to the Euros after his leg break but he was named in the Football League team of the season. He missed out on the top player gong to Burnley's Andre Gray.

Irish Independent

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