John Giles: This Ireland team have an ability to produce a big result when they need it most
The most important thing about Friday night’s match against Moldova was that Ireland got the necessary win.
The result was what mattered the most, keeping their play-off hopes alive.
The team started brightly and were well deserving of their two-goal lead at half-time and I was impressed with some of the football played.
Daryl Murphy took his two goals well and the second was the result of some excellent inter-play as the team was playing with a fair degree of confidence during that first half.
However, I think it is fair to say Ireland died away a bit in the second half and their play became increasingly sloppy as the contest evolved.
It didn’t really matter in some respects as they never looked likely to be caught out by an organised but limited Moldova team. However, I would have preferred to see them maintain the standard from the first half.
Ultimately, though, they delivered on their requirements and can go into this evening’s match in Cardiff with a fair degree of optimism.
I doubt they will give too much thought to a performance that wasn’t the most convincing and when Wes Hoolahan was taken off, the sharpness in Ireland’s play disappeared to a large degree.
Hoolahan was once again Ireland’s most creative player on the pitch and I would hope that O’Neill substituting him when he did means he has plans to use him against Wales this evening.
That would seem to make sense from an outsider’s perspective, but as we have seen before with Ireland team selections, it is very difficult to know what he intends doing in terms of the personnel that he will use.
For example, the choice of Callum O’Dowda would not have been largely anticipated and in fairness, I felt that the Bristol City player did well and gave Ireland some options going forward.
Whether that is enough to earn him a starting place this evening remains to be seen and while you can look foolish in second guessing what the manager will do in relation to who starts, I would expect that both James McClean and Robbie Brady to come back in after serving their suspensions against Moldova.
O’Neill is a big fan of both of those players and with a win necessary for Ireland’s chances of qualifying, I assume he’s going to pick players he trusts the most.
Both the West Bromwich Albion player and Burnley midfielder are in that category.
As a result of needing three points, Ireland cannot afford to be too conservative and I reckon they will go with two players up front, with Murphy and Shane Long expected to continue their partnership.
Ireland’s back four did reasonably well on Friday night so there would be little reason to tinker with that and their task should be made slightly easier by the absence of Garth Bale, who is the talisman of this current Welsh team.
It is definitely helpful to Ireland’s cause that the Real Madrid star is missing through injury, but it is more important that Ireland focus on their own job, which is securing the precious three points that would send them to the play-offs.
I think it also helps that Ireland need to win tonight as it should ensure a positive attitude from the first whistle.
It is of no benefit to the team to look for a draw, so I expect to see a more consistent performance from Ireland and one in which they look to take the initiative from the start.
In the recent past, Ireland have delivered some big performances when they have needed them most with their display in Paris under Giovanni Trapattoni one in which they were forced to adopt a positive attitude all the way through.
More recently, Ireland did something similar when beating Italy at the European Championships and you get the sense with this team that they can pull off a big result when they need it most.
Now is the time for this Ireland team to produce when it matters most and with so much depending on the result, I think they possess sufficient belief and ability to secure the win this evening.