Wes Hoolahan gets the nod as Martin O'Neill names side to face Bosnia
In the absence of key front-liners, this is the side that Republic of Ireland manager Martin O’Neill sends into action for tonight’s Euro 2016 first-leg playoff against Bosnia Herzegovina in Zenica.
Having deputised so admirably for Shay Given for close to half the win over Germany and for the full 90 minutes against Poland, the West Ham stopper will do so again after the Donegal man was forced to undergo surgery.
Perhaps the only Irish player most other international sides would covet, the Everton full-back is pivotal in O’Neill’s plans, regardless of what they might be.
Coleman has an incredible engine and possesses genuine pace, though more consistency with his final ball would go a long way. As he said during the week, the former Sligo Rovers standout needs to assert himself as leader in the absence of Given and John O’Shea.
The Derby County centre half played in Ireland’s past two games, and gave a decent account of himself on both occasions. With John O’Shea both injured and suspended, Keogh, at 29, has the opportunity show that he is a viable option for a long-term place in the heart of Ireland’s defence.
The 26-year-old looked assured and composed in Aston Villa’s draw with Manchester City last weekend, which will have come as great relief to Irish management when considering O’Shea’s omission and Marc Wilson’s lack of game time at Stoke.
Like Keogh, the time is now for Clark to demonstrate his reliability for now and into the future. His battle with Dzeko could be decisive.
Has only played twice for Burnley all season but, after his solid performance against Germany at the Aviva, Ward has been called on again to facilitate the deployment of Robbie Brady in midfield.
No better time to show Sean Dyche the folly of his ways.
The Stoke man's attributes may be somewhat limited, but he is unquestionably effective at subduing more technically gifted opponents.
Sitting in front of what will be a relatively inexperiencd defensive unit, Whelan's protection of the quadrant cannot be underestimated.
Whelan must keep his discipline from up to and including 40 yards out because, in Miralem Pjanic, the hosts have a dead ball specialist of the highest calibre.
The Everton midfielder must assume more responsibility, even if it’s not in his favoured position. Apart form the odd exception, he has never been Ireland’s sitting midfielder, so the time to act accordingly is now.
An increased ambition in his passing and a willingness to drive forward more are not beyond McCarthy, who often borders the lethargic when in a green jersey.
Along with Robbie Brady, the former St Kevin’s Boys prospect has been a revelation under O’Neill and Roy Keane. Hendrick has the sort of buccaneering brio that McCarthy could do with a shot of, and is capable of creating vital sparks of magic, as he did against Germany away and Georgia at home.
Brady’s graduation from prospect to player is near complete, as he continues to shine for club and country. The Dubliner is technically astute and a crisp passer, though his usually reliable set-pieces went awry in Warsaw. He, and indeed the Irish public, will hope that was an unfortunate anomaly as set-pieces could provide the best avenue for a coveted away goal.
Hoolahan is unlikely to play the full 90 minutes in both legs but, as the source of Irish creativity, his time on the pitch must be maximised.
With the freedom to play in front of a midfield trio, Hoolahan can concentrate fully on unlocking a Bosnian defence that was regularly porous during qualification, though he needs those behind him to move the ball with greater haste.
A surprise starter against Germany, the Waterford man is likely to lead the line again. O’Neill believes the Ipswich striker to be an effective target man, though he was decidedly anonymous against the Germans, and was replaced by eventual match winner Shane Long.
Shane Long is injured, Jon Walters is suspended and Robbie Keane simply does not have the legs for such an assignment, so Murphy, who netted a long overdue hat-trick for his club last weekend, can show himself to more than a debatable contingency plan.