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Irish boss to pick valuable lessons from Serbia loss

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Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill (right) and Shane Long. Picture credit: David Maher/Sportsfile.

Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill (right) and Shane Long. Picture credit: David Maher/Sportsfile.

Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill (right) and Shane Long. Picture credit: David Maher/Sportsfile.

MARTIN O'Neill knows better than anyone else that he may yet live to thank Serbia for a 45-minute toasting in midweek which lowered expectations nicely and put a neon sign around the problem areas he must address.

The O'Neill revolution seemed on course for another glowing chapter until Serbian manager Ljubinko Drulovic got at his players at the interval in the Aviva and sent out a different team after the break. 

A handy win and a Shane Long hat-trick would have helped the FIFA coefficient but O'Neill would have learned a lot less.

"If we'd gone and won there, of course you can get a lot of confidence from winning the matches and winning is very important, but if we had gone on and won it, it might have hidden a couple of things that we know that can be exposed by teams," added O'Neill.

"Where I thought we had a problem was at set-pieces, particularly the corner kicks, where Ivanovic seemed to get his head on most things.

"That's something we have to keep an eye on which I mentioned to them. But I didn't think there were things too badly wrong with us, particularly in the first.

"In the second, of course, and when you're talking about new partnerships as well, these two lads, particularly the two lads you are talking about, the centre-halves, wouldn't have played together before so it takes a wee bit of getting used to."

With two further games against Italy at Craven Cottage and Turkey at the Aviva, O'Neill is still waiting to decide on at least one other game against Portugal in New York in June.

Talks are at an advanced stage to include a second game in America but O'Neill is balancing his need to see as much of his players as he can and their need to rest after a long season.

"Well, I think it will give me a better opportunity of course. The matches that we've already organised are very decent games for a start.

"We have mentioned the fact that there is a possibility of some extra games. Things have not been finalised and I am leaving that to others. But we have the two games confirmed, a third game would be ideal. If there happens to be a fourth game, fine.

"Now obviously, it's a fairly lengthy period of time and I would have to take into consideration some players' needs for breaks simply because those players playing in the Championship finish in the first week of May."

Lengthy

"And if they are not involved in the play-offs, it's a fairly lengthy period of time to take a break and then come back and try to get fit again for these matches. All of these things we will talk about, but the players themselves are quite positive."

O'Neill is keeping all his options open and refused to be drawn on whether the use of Wes Hoolahan against the Serbs was an indicator of the way he is leaning.

"I have used him in the game, we see how things develop. There are a lot of things between now and September.

"Take Aiden into consideration – the time that he has not played even though I know about the Russian winter break. He has come back and I think he may have played one full game for Everton in a cup match.

"Wes obviously has a lot to consider of his own future at club level. So all of those things obviously will play parts in your thinking by the time that September comes along, depending on the amount of time that players have played on the field."

How much clearer on who you want in the team at the end of summer period?


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