Exclusive - Kevin Doyle picks out the Ireland player Wales will fear most on Friday
Kevin Doyle has backed his old strike partner Shane Long to be ‘fresh and raring to go’ if he is selected to lead the Ireland line in Friday’s crucial World Cup qualifier against Wales.
Long has started just seven Premier League games for Southampton this season as he has slipped down the pecking order of manager Claude Puel and he will head into the Wales showdown lacking the match sharpness he would have wanted after a slow start top 2017.
The 30-year-old was handed an unexpected run-out following the injury to Southampton first choice striker Manolo Gabbiadini at Tottenham last Sunday, with Long making a positive impression after he was thrown into the fray as a first half substitute.
Now Doyle is urging his old strike partner with Reading and Ireland to make his mark against Wales, as he suspects Long’s lack of first team action at Southampton may even bolster his desire to shine on the international stage.
“Shane will be fresh and raring to go on Friday,” says Colorado Rapids striker Doyle. “Ireland might actually benefit from getting him in a mood where is ready to do some damage.
“It can be difficult to slot into a club side when they are playing well in the league, but these international matches are like one-off cup ties and those are the kind of games Shane thrives on.
“If he gets the nod to start against on Friday, he will be a player that will worry the Wales defenders.”
Doyle admits the return to fitness of Wales talisman Gareth Bale could threaten Ireland’s promising position in World Cup qualifying Group D, but he suggests the two sides doing battle in Dublin next week are evenly matches.
“Bale is the one world-class player in the whole group and he could be the decisive factor in any game he plays, but we have nothing else to fear in the rest of their team,” adds Doyle.
“Wales did great to get to the Euro 2016 semi-finals last summer, but you look at their squad and their players are all operating a similar level to the Ireland players at club level.
“Also, all the pressure is on them now. We are in a good position in the group and this is a massive game for them because they cannot afford to lose.
“With the Aviva Stadium packed and the confidence we have gained from the first few games of qualifying, we have to fancy our chances of getting a positive result.”
Doyle has joined up with an injury hit Ireland squad preparing for the vital qualifier on Friday after recovering from a concussion injury that saw him miss Colorado’s game against New York Red Bulls earlier this month.
GOALS SCORED BY IRELAND STRIKERS IN COMPETITIVE MATCHES THIS CENTURY
Aside from the record breaking contribution of Robbie Keane, Ireland have struggled to get a flow of goals from their strikers since the turn of the century.
As this list confirms, finding a source of goals to replace the retired Keane will be a priority for Ireland in the next few years:
Robbie Keane - 37
Jonathan Walters - 9
Kevin Doyle - 9
Shane Long - 5
Clinton Morrison - 4
Gary Doherty - 2
Stephen Elliott - 1
David Connolly - 1
Niall Quinn - 1
Daryl Murphy - 1
Andy Keogh -