Ireland players battling to avoid drop from Premier League
Worries for Ireland boss as several of his stars face drop from top-flight football, writes Daniel McDonnell
ONLY two of the Irish players who started last month's World Cup qualifier with Austria are certain of their Premier League futures for next season. It is a worrying situation for Giovanni Trapattoni.
The Italian tends to downplay the number of top-flight players which he has at his disposal when, in reality, the side he sent out against the Austrians contained nine regular Premier League performers.
His difficulty is their current standing within the elite division. As the English season enters the final furlong, only Everton's Seamus Coleman and West Brom's Shane Long are sure of their standing ahead of next term.
Stoke and Sunderland's worrying slide into trouble has suddenly placed question marks over the futures of some important Irish contributors, so you can understand why the recent announcement of a friendly with Spain would have passed over their heads.
Right now, they have more than summer holidays to be worrying about. Taking in the rest of the provisional 29-man squad which was originally named for the most recent World Cup qualifiers, there are a dozen members of Trapattoni's panel with a serious interest in the outcome of the battle to avoid the drop.
Wes Hoolahan/ Anthony Pilkington (Norwich)
Remaining games: Reading (H), Stoke (A), Aston Villa (H), West Brom (H), Man City (A)
Survival prospects? Chris Hughton's men were unlucky at Arsenal last weekend, but will feel the next four games are winnable if they replicate that performance. They must take three points from the visit of Reading.
What if they go down? Hoolahan (above) is a respected Premier League performer but the 31-year-old is contracted until 2015. Pilkington, who has been troubled by injury, has the right age profile to attract interest
John O'Shea/James McClean/Keiren Westwood (Sunderland)
Remaining games: Everton (H), Aston Villa (A), Stoke (H), Southampton (H), Tottenham (A)
Survival prospects? It looks a whole lot brighter after their stunning win at Newcastle last Sunday. Still, they face a tough one this weekend before a run of three games that will decide their fate. They don't want to be going to Spurs on the last day needing something.
What if they go down? O'Shea is a proven Premier League operator and would surely be subject to enquiries but is also on an attractive deal. McClean (below, left) has a bit more to do to win trust, while Westwood could capitalise if Simon Mignolet was sold.
Glenn Whelan/Marc Wilson/Jon Walters (Stoke)
Remaining games: QPR (A), Norwich (H), Sunderland (A), Tottenham (H), Southampton (A)
Survival prospects? At their best, you'd fancy Stoke to get the requisite points, but they haven't won since Christmas. If they can't find a win from the QPR or Norwich games, they are in difficulty.
What if they go down? All three are on good contracts, with Wilson (below, left) – who would likely command the most interest – signing a new four-year extension last October after he broke his leg. The trio would have to target an instant return from the Championship.
Ciaran Clark (Aston Villa)
Remaining games: Man United (A), Sunderland (H), Norwich (A), Chelsea (H), Wigan (A)
Survival prospects? Win at Stoke was hugely significant yet they failed to follow it up against Fulham. They may have to take full points from the games with Sunderland and Norwich to avoid a stressful last day at Wigan.
What if they go down? Clark (above) is likely to stay there for the long haul. There are many other Irish players at the club, of course, with Richard Dunne the only one in Trapattoni's plans right now, but he is likely to leave regardless, with his contract expiring.
Strangely, the Irish kids who starred in the Next Generation series would probably get more first-team opportunities if the club dropped down a division.
James McCarthy (Wigan)
Remaining games: West Ham (A), Tottenham (H), West Brom (A), Swansea (H), Arsenal (A), Aston Villa (H)
Survival prospects? They have a slightly more diverse run-in than the others, with their only 'six pointer' coming on the final day against Villa. Much will depend on the mentality of the three mid-table sides they encounter.
What if they go down? McCarthy (above) would be upset, given how good Wigan have been to him, but it would serve as the catalyst for his deserved move to the right end of the table. It would be fascinating to see the talented midfielder develop at a club with that kind of ambition.
Stephen Kelly/Alex Pearce (Reading)
Remaining games: Liverpool (H), Norwich (A), QPR (H), Fulham (A), Man City (H), West Ham (A)
Survival prospects? Doomed. Winning four from their final five games would be a great achievement, and even that won't be enough.
What if they go down? Centre-back Pearce spent the season in a contractual dispute and should move on. Full-back Kelly (above), on the other hand, joined in January from Fulham on a two-and-a-half-year deal, so he will have to face up to life in the second tier.