Sunday 18 February 2018

O'Neill issues rallying cry

Manager tells players to draw on strength of former glories

Ireland manager sits alongside injured captain Seamus Coleman at training yesterday while chatting with Roy Keane and coach Steve Guppy. Photo: Sportsfile
Ireland manager sits alongside injured captain Seamus Coleman at training yesterday while chatting with Roy Keane and coach Steve Guppy. Photo: Sportsfile
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

Ireland manager Martin O'Neill has told his players to remember what they are capable of achieving ahead of tonight's crunch World Cup qualifier with Serbia (7.45).

His side are under pressure to deliver following a poor showing in Saturday's draw with Georgia. They would overtake Serbia and go top of Group D with victory but risk dropping to third if they fall short of that target.

O'Neill feels there has been an overreaction to the performance in Tbilisi and wants his squad to think positively about other famous nights at the Aviva as they prepare for a match that Serbia's Nemanja Matic has described as the biggest game in their country's football history.

"We haven't lost a competitive game in the campaign despite some poor 25 minutes, half-an-hours or 45 minutes, as it was the other night," said O'Neill.

"Those sort of things keep you going. The players sometimes have to be reminded of that.

"We have to think of nights we had here at the Aviva. We beat the world champions Germany, and then we had the play-off against Bosnia and there's been fightbacks in some other games and grandstand finishes that should be uppermost in our mind.

"The players have shown a great determination here in games where despite not having as much possession as the other team, they've found a way to pull it around and that will be uppermost in our thoughts. If we play very, very strongly we can win the game."

O'Neill must plan without Jeff Hendrick who has failed to shake off the quad problem that ruled him out of Georgia.

Wes Hoolahan (groin) and Aiden McGeady (hamstring) are carrying injuries that have complicated their preparation.

Hoolahan was an unused sub in Georgia while McGeady was a second-half substitute. The Irish boss has hinted that he will make changes to his side following a quick three-day turnaround that has offered little scope for training ground work.

Ireland striker Jon Walters believes that the players have to take responsibility for the disappointing showing against the Georgians.

"There's only so much the staff and the manager can do off the pitch," he said. "It's down to us on the pitch. We've got to recognise certain situations on the pitch, and deal with them. We didn't do so well in the first half against Georgia.

"As a player you relish the biggest occasions. That's why you're here to play football. That's why you do it. As a young kid growing up, they're the moments you want to be in.

"Sometimes it seems to suit us that our back is against the wall. Serbia at home, two points behind them, it certainly is. If we come out fighting like we have done in previous games, we've got a great chance."

Irish Independent

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