Ireland can face France with the same system, says Will Smallbone

Republic of Ireland's man of the match Will Smallbone during the international friendly against Latvia in the Aviva Stadium. Photo: PA

Aidan Fitzmaurice

Ireland’s man of the match from Wednesday night believes that, despite conceding two goals, the boys in green should stick with the same formation when facing France on Monday.

Latvia’s ability to exploit Ireland’s defensive weeknesses and score twice is a concern, but Will Smallbone feels the system used there can work against the World Cup finalists.

“I don’t see why not. Obviously, they’ll have great individuals and great talents in the team, but I think we need to get out there and be competitive,” Smallbone says.

“I don’t see why we can’t play that shape. We created a lot of chances and I think it’s important, looking at Monday’s game, we want to go into the game to win it. So I think we need to be as creative and attacking as we can, while, obviously, being cautious of their threats.”

It’s been quite a rise for Smallbone. Just a few fans were there to witness the first steps of an international career, as his first start in the green jersey came on a dull September Sunday in Longford, a 1-0 loss to Wales in an U-19 friendly in 2018.

Five years on and the attacking midfielder is not only now a senior international but the centre of attention, having beaten Evan Ferguson to the prize of being Ireland’s man of the match in Wednesday’s 3-2 win over Latvia.

Nathan Collins, Troy Parrott and Adam Idah were team-mates that day in the midlands in 2018 – and now Smallbone, on loan from Southampton to Stoke City, is in their company again.

“This was a proud day for my family, and to make my debut at home makes it even better,” says Smallbone, who had his own female fanclub to back him at Lansdowne Road. “My Mam, a few aunties and my girlfriend were at the game.

“It’s been a great journey. In the last camp [November], I was a little bit disappointed not to play, but it gave me that desire to make sure that I was in the side for this campaign.”

When he announced his squad, Stephen Kenny conceded that, with the magnitude of the task against France, it would be a huge leap for either of the two then-uncapped players (Smallbone and Mikey Johnston) to come into contention to play against the French. But so impressive were the debutants that they are now in the conversation.

“Everyone wants to play in that game, a great one for Irish football. Myself personally, I’d love to put myself out against the team that reached the last World Cup final,” Smallbone says, proud of his role in the opening goal for Callum O’Dowda.

“The assist maybe settled me down in terms of creating chances, and not being too worried to give the ball away. Once the game started the nerves seemed to go away.”