Thursday 12 December 2019

O'Neill wary of Fletcher

Republic of Ireland boss Martin O'Neill has warned his players to be wary of Scotland striker Steven Fletcher as they attempt to maintain their Euro 2016 momentum.

The in-form Sunderland frontman could stand between the Republic and their hopes of adding three more points to their qualification fund in Glasgow on Friday night having finally shaken off the run of injuries which have hampered him in recent seasons.

It was O'Neill who, during his spell as Black Cats manager, paid Wolves £12million for the 27-year-old's services in August 2012, and he remains convinced that the 11 goals he scored before joining the casualty list in his first season kept the club in the Barclays Premier League.

He said: "Steven is a very good player. I signed him for Sunderland and my own view was that his goals were instrumental in keeping the side up, as well as Simon Mignolet's performances in goal, so the two of them can take great credit for that.

"But he has had a few injury problems - he was injured for Scotland at the back end of that particular season and he has fought his way back, so he is in very good form at the moment."

If O'Neill is wary of the threat posed by Gordon Strachan's men at Celtic Park, he has little time to dwell upon it as he tries to put together a team capable of maintaining an unbeaten start to the Group D campaign despite injuries taking their toll.

Ireland, of course, emerged from their trip to world champions Germany last month with a point despite being unable to call upon Seamus Coleman or James McCarthy, and while the full-back is back in business, McCarthy has been ruled out of the game as he continues to manage a hamstring problem.

With Glenn Whelan also having failed to recover sufficiently from the leg fracture he suffered in Gelsenkirchen, O'Neill faces a series of tough decisions with Darron Gibson, Stephen Quinn and Jeff Hendrick all in his thoughts.

Derby's Hendrick has just eight senior caps to his name, but O'Neill is confident the 22-year-old could do a job against Scotland if he was asked to.

He said: "He is a talented players and every single week he plays for Derby County, he is getting more experience. But I think these type of matches will test even (the) most experienced players.

"They will still have a nervousness about them and sometimes games like this, remarkably, the irony of it all is that young players step through it and just dismiss the nervousness and fly through the game.

"But it's a big game for everyone regardless of the number of times they have played for their country."

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