Monday 20 November 2017

O'Neill calls for cool heads in Cardiff cauldron

Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill. Photo: Sportsfile
Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill. Photo: Sportsfile

Colin Young

Martin O'Neill is appealing for calm among his squad as they prepare for tomorrow evening's World Cup qualifying showdown against Wales in Cardiff.

The Republic of Ireland manager was speaking following Chris Coleman's assertion that there would be "needle" between the two squads after Neil Taylor broke Seamus Coleman's leg in the first tie played by the sides in Dublin.

O'Neill, who is still without his influential captain as he recovers from the injury suffered in March's goalless draw, tried to play down any hint of antagonism or controversy prior to tomorrow night's final qualifying game.

Both sides need a victory to be in with a chance of being among the top eight second-placed sides to make the play-offs. The runner-up with the lowest points tally from the nine qualifying groups will miss out and the Group D sides are in a precarious position at present. At least their fate will be known after tomorrow night's games. Ireland manager O'Neill, who has no suspensions or fresh injuries for the clash following Friday night's 2-0 victory over Moldova in Dublin, will call on his players to keep their heads in the intensity of the smaller Cardiff stadium.

The Welsh FA could have played this game at the Millennium Stadium but have switched it to the home of Championship side Cardiff City at the insistence of Chris Coleman. The Wales boss is clearly hoping home advantage, and the closeness of supporters to the pitch, will be a major factor.

The Ireland squad travel to the Welsh capital today with O'Neill warning his players to keep their calm in the face of what could be a hostile environment.

"With the intense atmosphere there, you need to play with your head and you have to play with a great deal of intensity too - and the two don't always marry," said O'Neill. "And if we have some chances like we had on Friday night, we have to take them and be more clinical, it's really as simple as that.

"Because eventually, if you keep spurning chances like that, you are not going to win football matches. I think it is actually about taking chances. I know the opposition will be different and it will be tight but if we create clear-cut chances, a percentage have got to be good.

"I don't know if there is any heat in the game . . . you are promoting needle but it is not in my head. I'll have a wee think about it, I'll replay things, have a look, see how the players are. We have a couple of players coming back who have been big players for us and we are ready to go."

James McClean and Robbie Brady will return from suspension and are both expected to start, leaving O'Neill with a decision over who to leave out. Callum O'Dowda seems certain to return to the bench and Wes Hoolahan's fitness levels will be scrutinised. Daryl Murphy may also be among the substitutes, despite his two goals against Moldova.

That would leave Shane Long as a starter up front, but the Southampton striker missed three excellent chances on Friday and has yet to score for his club this season in his six Premier League appearances.

"He passed that comment on to me that he couldn't buy a goal at the moment as we were on the way into the dressing-room," added O'Neill, "and it was a dressing-room comment, like everything else. I will have a look at it and see how he is but it would have been nice if one of those chances went in. It would have been a big boost for him."

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