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We can still qualify if we play without fear, insists Houghton

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Shane Long's late equalizer secured a vital point at home to Poland on Sunday night, but the performance of Martin O'Neill's side was largely uninspiring until they loosened the shackles

Shane Long's late equalizer secured a vital point at home to Poland on Sunday night, but the performance of Martin O'Neill's side was largely uninspiring until they loosened the shackles

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Shane Long's late equalizer secured a vital point at home to Poland on Sunday night, but the performance of Martin O'Neill's side was largely uninspiring until they loosened the shackles

Ray Houghton believes that qualification to next summer's European Championships hinges on the Republic of Ireland playing without fear.

A late Shane Long goal secured a vital point at home to Poland on Sunday night, but the performance of Martin O'Neill's side was largely uninspiring until they loosened the shackles.

The 4-2-3-1 formation that they started with allowed Wes Hoolahan to roam in behind captain Robbie Keane, but it wasn't until they raised the tempo and quickened their passing that they truly threatened.

By that stage, Poland were already leading 1-0 and Ireland needed another late goal - their third of the campaign - to rescue a point. So with Scotland next up in June, the mindset must be to attack from the start.

Houghton, who scored Ireland's first goal (against England) at a European Championship in 1988, insists that O'Neill's men can make it out of Group D - as long as they take some risks and are brave in their approach.

"I just thought we were a bit reluctant and I think it comes down to not playing for a while and maybe one or two players being in relegation battles, maybe their confidence wasn't quite there earlier on," said Houghton.

"But the longer that the game went on, we got mentally stronger, braver, more courageous in possession of the ball, started to do what we're good at, and that's why we created as many chances in the second half.

"That's when it comes down to playing without fear, you just want to go out there and show people what you can do. I think there's a bit more talent in the team to come.

"To score three late goals, like we have against Georgia, Germany, and (Sunday) night, shows the lads are still trying until the 90-plus minute.

"They're not giving up and there is great resolve about them. Even when we're outplayed, as we were against Germany, somehow we managed to get something out of it.

"So, yeah, I would say that we're in there fighting at the moment and have a decent chance of qualifying."

Houghton remains confident about Ireland's chances, even though he describes the June 13 visit of Scotland as a "must-win game", he sees it as a clash that O'Neill's side should take the three points from.

Speaking at yesterday's UEFA Regions' Cup draw at the Aviva Stadium ahead of this summer's tournament in Dublin, the former Liverpool midfielder picked out the display of Hoolahan as a bright point.

"Wes started off as a No 10 in many respects, but when he went over to the left he did a bit better and he had the freedom to manoeuvre around," said Houghton.

"Instead of staying up there near Robbie (Keane), when he went over there we started getting him the ball. Whereas when he stood up there, we struggled to find him.

"When he was given a bit more freedom to roam, that is when he got on the ball and you can see the best of him."

Irish Independent