Sunday 22 April 2018

Martin O'Neill indicates changes will be made for Serbian test

Daryl Murphy (right) is in contention to start tomorrow night having come on as a substitute against Georgia. Photo: Reuters/David Mdzinarishvili
Daryl Murphy (right) is in contention to start tomorrow night having come on as a substitute against Georgia. Photo: Reuters/David Mdzinarishvili
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

Martin O'Neill has indicated that he will freshen up his side for tomorrow's showdown with Serbia, which has acquired the status of a must-win game after developments on Saturday.

Ireland's draw with Georgia, along with Wales coming back into contention with a victory over Austria, has put pressure on the hosts for the crunch encounter at the Aviva Stadium.

Three points in Tbilisi would have set up a shoot-out for top spot against the Serbs, with the cushion of being guaranteed control of second place heading in to the final two matches if things went wrong.

With Wales taking on the group's weakest side Moldova tomorrow, the reality is that Ireland will drop to third unless they take full points from the visit of the leaders.

O'Neill has effectively conceded that Ireland need to deliver on that front if they are to retain any hopes of qualifying automatically.

The picture would flip dramatically if his side managed to get the job done and assumed first place, which would put them in control of their destiny.

However, the price of failing to do so would alter the picture and leave his team playing catch-up in a group where they had been setting the pace.

"We still remain unbeaten at this minute, but what it does mean is that it puts pressure on us to go and try to win this game," said O'Neill, who was speaking before Wales triumphed.

"This match becomes the total focal point. I know Serbia have a game against Austria and that won't be easy, but really, in essence, if we are going to come through (automatically), we are going to have to win it and play much better than we did tonight."

Ireland travelled back after the game and the FAI reported no fresh injury concerns yesterday.

Jeff Hendrick (calf) took part in a session with the medical team but he would appear to still be in with an outside chance of starting tomorrow. The quick turnaround means their final session before the Serbia tie is at Abbotstown this morning.

Just about the only positive from Saturday was avoiding suspensions, with seven players that figured one booking away from a ban.

"We'll see where we are on Monday," O'Neill said. "We'll have a look at it and see how players are. For the likes of Jon Walters to get through the 90 minutes on Saturday, that was encouraging. He hadn't played a great deal. Shane Long hasn't played a lot of football. We'll have to see how they are when we fly back."

Walters was walking slightly gingerly in the aftermath, but said it was a consequence of blisters as opposed to a hangover from the ankle ligament problem that made him a major doubt for Georgia.

"I'll see how I react, but I don't see it being a problem," he said.

The most likely department to be freshened up is the attacking area, with Saturday's subs Aiden McGeady and Daryl Murphy in contention.

Wes Hoolahan should also come into the frame and, with Harry Arter and Glenn Whelan called ashore early on Saturday, another option would be to recall the energetic David Meyler, who has performed well in emergencies. Conor Hourihane has yet to make his competitive debut and it would be a surprise if O'Neill pitched him in.

"I've got one or two champing at the bit and that's encouraging," said O'Neill, who had always stressed that this group would go to the final match in Wales, which is now assured.

"You really have to look at the group," he continued. "I mentioned at the start, this was a tight group. Wales had made the semi-finals at the Euros. Serbia, who hadn't qualified because of a few things, are definitely a decent side. We drew 2-2 out in Serbia and people were saying that wasn't a great result. We then charged on.

"We remain unbeaten away from home, which is difficult in World Cup qualifying matches, so what we have to try and do is win this game. It was always going to be tough. I'm not saying this for the sake of it. We've dropped two points behind and we have to try and address that."

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