Sunday 22 July 2018

Likely lads for Georgia clash have made early impact in new campaign

Club form will be crucial when Martin O'Neill picks his side for first leg of double-header

Robbie Brady and Jeff Hendrick leave the field after the World Cup qualifier in Austria Photo: David Maher/Sportsfile
Robbie Brady and Jeff Hendrick leave the field after the World Cup qualifier in Austria Photo: David Maher/Sportsfile

Colin Young

He wouldn't dream of it of course but if Martin O'Neill were to base his starting XI for the Georgia showdown on game-time, form and goals scored at this stage of the season, his team would look very different from the one which started against Austria in June.

Loyalty, experience, common sense and fitness will be the deciding factors when O'Neill names the side to start on Saturday as Ireland look to secure a victory ahead of the all-important meeting with Serbia in the Aviva three days later. As ever, the early season has brought differing fortunes for the regular Ireland players although moves from the Premier League for key individuals has brought the anticipated minutes on the pitch in the Championship.

James McClean (pictured) and Harry Arter are expected to add to their caps against Georgia Photo: David Maher/Sportsfile
James McClean (pictured) and Harry Arter are expected to add to their caps against Georgia Photo: David Maher/Sportsfile

Here we look at the team which should start in Tbilisi on Saturday.

Darren Randolph

(Middlesbrough)

League games played: 5/5

Harry Arter Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Harry Arter Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

League Cup: 0/1

He may have finished last season on the bench at West Ham but Randolph retained his place as Ireland's No 1 for the draw against Austria, despite Keiren Westwood's excellent and consistent form with Sheffield Wednesday in the EFL for another season.

Randolph's £5m summer move from Upton Park to Championship favourites Middlesbrough is bound to have secured a season as an ever-present in Garry Monk's side and the 30-year-old looks certain to keep his place for the next phase of qualifiers. He has so far kept two clean sheets in four league games and sat out Boro's Carabao Cup win over Scunthorpe.

With Rob Elliot also starting the season at Newcastle after his return from injury, there is plenty of healthy competition among the goalkeepers for O'Neill and coach Seamus McDonagh.

Cyrus Christie

(Middlesbrough)

League: 5/5

League Cup: 0/1

Christie has also moved to Middlesbrough, started the season as Garry Monk's first-choice right-back and has been playing well in a forward-thinking, possession-based side.

The former Derby defender proved a more than adequate deputy for stricken captain Seamus Coleman against the Austrians although he takes a yellow card from that game to Georgia. Another caution in the next 90 minutes, which would force him to miss the Serbia clash, would be costly as there is no obvious or experienced full-back to cover. Boro owner Steve Gibson is determined to return to the Premier League so Christie could be a top-flight player by the summer.

Ciaran Clark

(Newcastle United)

League: 3/3, Goals 1

League Cup: 0/1

A victim of Rafa Benitez's rotation obsession at Newcastle last season, Clark stepped aside for Burnley's Kevin Long in the later Ireland games but he has started for the Geordies on their return to the Premier League, while Long has been on the bench at Turf Moor.

Although Benitez has again chopped and changed his back four, even leaving his captain Jamaal Lascelles on the bench for the season's opener against Spurs, Clark has played both games so far.

Judging by their start, Newcastle are in for a long season back in the Premier League but Clark, relegated with Aston Villa two seasons ago, is familiar with the struggles of the top flight.

Shane Duffy

(Brighton and Hove Albion)

League: 3/3

League Cup: 0/1

Only missed two qualifiers so far and O'Neill has used the Duffy/Clark partnership for four matches so will no doubt be happy to see them reunited in Georgia.

After promotion with Brighton last season, Duffy has started both Premier League games for Chris Hughton's side, but like his international partner, is likely to find himself battling at the wrong end of the table.

However, with more than 150 games to his name outside the big league, and after his recovery from career-threatening illness, Duffy and his managers will welcome the opportunity to compete against some of the best strikers in the world.

Stephen Ward

(Burnley)

League: 2/2 Goals 1

League Cup: 0/1

The Dublin-born left-back signed a two-year extension at Burnley just days after scoring one of his best ever goals - from an impressive tally - in their stunning opening weekend win at Chelsea.

Playing regularly behind Robbie Brady now, the former Bohemians defender has been one of Sean Dyche's most consistent performers and is set for another long run in the Premier League this season.

Ward's form has enabled O'Neill to employ Brady on the left of midfield for all but one qualifier and, as one of the few who has played in Ireland's last two major finals appearances, Ward brings valuable experience to the team.

Glenn Whelan

(Aston Villa)

League: 5/5

League Cup: 0/2 Yellow card 1

After nearly 10 years with Stoke City, Whelan joined Aston Villa in the summer and has stepped straight into Steve Bruce's midfield. Four games in and he is already a popular figure among the Villa Park faithful.

Whelan has started every qualifier, except the 1-0 win over Georgia in October last year.

In the absence of James McCarthy, he is still the midfield anchor man and a vital component in O'Neill's side.

With the young guns in front of him, Whelan has a few years left on the international stage and is certain to add to his 81 Ireland caps in World Cup year.

James McClean

(West Bromwich Albion)

League: 2/2

League Cup: 1/1 Yellow card 1

The excellent form of Aiden McGeady, following his move to Sunderland, will not have gone unnoticed by Martin O'Neill but his former Celtic winger has not started a 2018 World Cup qualifier yet.

The Ireland manager has stayed loyal to McClean, however, whether he has been starting regularly for West Brom or not, and he is able to get the best out of the winger.

Now with half a century of caps to his name, McClean thrives on the international stage and Tony Pulis has started him in all three of the Baggies' league and cup matches so far this season.

Harry Arter

(Bournemouth)

League: 3/3 Yellow card 1

League Cup: 0/1 Yellow card 1

Arter started both Bournemouth's Premier League defeats to West Brom and Watford but missed the League Cup win at Birmingham in midweek.

He picked up 12 yellow cards for Eddie Howe's side last season and was cautioned in the first game of the season at The Hawthorns.

Now with four senior caps, Arter is competing for one of the central midfield starting positions under O'Neill and his Premier League experience and minutes in this campaign will be an important factor in the months ahead.

Jeff Hendrick

(Burnley)

League: 2/2

League Cup: 0/1

Also benefiting from top-flight experience, Hendrick has slowly worked his way into the starting line-up at Burnley following his move from Derby County last season. The only game he has not started in the qualifiers was in Moldova when Wes Hoolahan made a rare start. The Norwich midfielder has been on the bench for the majority of games this season, and last, and that is where he is likely to start again on Saturday.

O'Neill seems to prefer Hoolahan as an impact substitute, leaving the younger Hendrick to make his impression over 90 minutes.

Robbie Brady

(Burnley)

League: 2/2

League Cup: 1/1 Goals 1 Yellow card 1

One of the benefits of his move from Carrow Road was the opportunity to build on his relationship on the left with Stephen Ward, although Brady made a slow start at Turf Moor in the second half of last season.

One of the top assist contributors in the Championship, he provided only one goal for Burnley and spent most of the five months on and off the bench.

But he has started well this season on the left, playing in the win at Chelsea, and he scored in their midweek cup win at Blackburn.

Jon Walters

(Burnley)

League: 2/2 (both as sub)

League Cup: 1/1

Shane Long

(Southampton)

League: 1/2 (sub)

League Cup: 1/1 (sub)

Take your pick. Depends on who is fit and whether O'Neill decides to go with two or three up front, but if the injury which forced him off at Blackburn is not serious, Walters starts and will win his 50th cap.

As usual, Long's participation in Southampton's games has been intermittent and he has yet to start under new boss Mauricio Pellegrini. Could another move be on the cards?

Long and Walters now face competition from new blood in Sean Maguire and Scott Hogan but they are unlikely to start at this stage. Ipswich's David McGoldrick has scored three goals in his side's fine start to the season. Hogan has yet to score in the league for Aston Villa but has three in the Carabao Cup, including a brace in midweek. His Villa team-mate Conor Hourihane started the season on the bench but scored a hat-trick last weekend and is the top-scoring Irishman in the top two divisions in England with four goals.

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