Friday 23 August 2019

Opportunity knocks for goal-shy attackers

Irish strikers should use Gibraltar test to take spotlight from set-piece stars

Callum Robinson during Ireland’s training session
in Abbotstown, Dublin, yesterday. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Callum Robinson during Ireland’s training session in Abbotstown, Dublin, yesterday. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

After taking umbrage at trash-talking from dismissive Danes, the Irish camp were always going to adopt a respectful tone ahead of tonight's Aviva Stadium date with Gibraltar.

The memories of March's struggle against the minnows function as the perfect warning against complacency.

But this will be a completely different type of occasion. High winds and a bumpy pitch added an extra layer of difficulty to a fixture played in the tight confines of Victoria Stadium, a venue positioned in the shadow of an airport.

The planes flying overhead were another distraction from the real business of the day which was, of course, trying to figure out what the hell was going on with John Delaney. Sections of the away support were more concerned with following FAI updates on their phone than monitoring the forgettable sideshow which was the game itself.

Ireland's players were locked in their own struggle. "The pitch was horrific, the wind was horrific," recalled Richard Keogh over the weekend, before simply laying out what the contrast should be. "Our pitch is a little bit bigger, and a nice stadium, so we've got to try and get on the ball and use the space."

A comfortable win will be secured if Ireland do that. Indeed, they should be able to find many ways to beat the team ranked 195th in the world. Martin O'Neill's team knocked seven past them at the Aviva back in 2014.

This can still be a worthy exercise, however, as Ireland do have to show they have more attacking strings to their bow than the threat of Shane Duffy. A few of the Danish jibes centred around the big centre half being Ireland's main danger although, as Seamus Coleman dryly pointed out, they maybe should have done a bit more work on countering it.

Reputation

Ireland have to accept that the reputation has been shaped by experience. March's victory over Georgia in Dublin 4 was encouraging, yet the only goal came courtesy of a Conor Hourihane dead ball. The punters that rock up this evening - especially the paying ones - are due a bit more joy from general play.

The only goal in the first meeting provided a brief glimpse of quality with David McGoldrick involved in the creation and Jeff Hendrick bursting through from midfield to score.

Mick McCarthy had urged his players to get into the box more frequently and was happy with that identity of the scorer.

Nevertheless, it would be good for the confidence of his front men if they could register tonight. His first-choice option McGoldrick and back-ups Scott Hogan, Callum Robinson and Sean Maguire are all looking to get off the mark in green.

"What's nice about it is we've a humble squad of players, which I think they are, there's not one who has a great desire to score a goal," said McCarthy.

"They want to win the game for everybody. But strikers, for all they contribute to the game, they want to score goals. They're a selfish bunch and that's the way they should be because they want to score."

McCarthy went with two up top in the away match and it's plausible he will do so again this time around. He downplayed any talk of wholesale changes, indicating that he would like to reward those who have done well by keeping them in the side.

In saying that, Glenn Whelan's international recall was with certain fixtures in mind. Seeing as he sat out the March battle, the percentage call is that he does so again.

That would leave scope for McGoldrick, who has impressed as a solo striker, to receive support. At club level, the Sheffield United player tends to function in a duo, and is comfortable as the more withdrawn member of a partnership.

McCarthy has options with a range of skill-sets to contemplate.

Hogan is a poacher, better inside the box, whereas Preston pair Robinson and Maguire are versatile enough to operate wide or central in a 4-3-3.

Ronan Curtis and James McClean went to watch their old club Derry City play Shamrock Rovers on Saturday, yet they are rivals for a left-sided station.

Both McCarthy and Seamus Coleman praised the training displays of Josh Cullen, with the captain referencing the West Ham player's 'bravery' on the ball and he's a candidate for a debut in midfield, but there's only so many caps to go around.

The real dilemma is on the other flank, with Robbie Brady perhaps in need of a confidence boost. Callum O'Dowda is an intriguing alternative, although McCarthy suggested that his absence of match practice showed in training at the beginning of this lengthy gathering.

Matt Doherty is the other player in the game here, and it would be hard for the Wolves player to go through this international window without seeing a minute's action.

Ireland should use the width of the pitch to stretch a part-time Gibraltar team that was turned over 3-0 in Tbilisi three days ago. McCarthy does have versatile forward players that can pass and move and make a case for greater involvement.

The game is unlikely to linger for long in the memory, but the front men have to seize it as an opportunity for a career landmark.

Irish Independent

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