NIALL QUINN may have done enough against Holland on Thursday to secure a regular striking spot in the Republic of Ireland's line-up . . . and the player under threat may be John Aldridge rather than Tony Cascarino.
Quinn, whose 71st minute goal earned Ireland a draw and the point necessary to clinch a spot in the second round, had an excellent all round game but it was still a surprise when manager Jack Charlton decided to withdraw Aldridge rather than the Manchester City striker Cascarino in the 62nd minute.
Charlton's philosophy has always been to use one big man up front with a smaller, speedier player feeding off him. On this occasion, however, he opted for two big men, while he wasn't prepared to call it an instant success after the game, he did say: "we might try that again".
One had to feel sorry for Aldridge on Thursday, for he was enjoying one of his best games for Ireland up to the time he was substituted and his reaction clearly showed that he was upset.
However, in the short term, Aldridge remains very much part of Charlton's plans and he seems certain to be included when the Irish team to play Romania in Genoa is announced tomorrow morning.
Tomorrow's game will be decided by a penalty shoot-out and it is interesting to note that Charlton withdrew his two top spotkick experts (Aldridge and Kevin Sheedy) against the Dutch.
When I asked the Irish boss if he would take the shoot possibility into account when he was naming his team — and substitutes — taken into account, he replied, as though daring me to contradict him.
With so many players rising to the occasion against Holland, and no injuries reported, the mood in the training camp near the Grand Hotel Bristol in Rappallo near Genoa — the hotel vacated by the departing Scots — was naturally buoyant yesterday morning. However, Charlton remained cautious and said he would probably delay naming his team until tomorrow morning.
The general feeling is that Charlton will stick by the 11 who started against the Dutch but no one especially Quinn — is taking anything for granted.
"I was pleased with my game against Holland but the manager has plenty of options to choose from for the Romanian game," he said.
Although he was winning his 17th cap on Thursday, it was only the fifth time Quinn started a game and his only previous experience of playing alongside Aldridge was limited to a brief substitute appearances.
"That was no problem though because we are all part of the one squad and everyone knows what's expected of them," he said.
"While there has been speculation about me taking Tony's place I would prefer not to talk about things like that. We are a happy squad and everyone is 100% behind one another."
Quinn's only previous World Cup experience was limited to two brief appearances as a sub in Spain and Hungry.
Up to this season he has never been a regular, never mind a prolific, goalscorer.
In fact, some critics suggested that he would eventually end up as a centre back, a position he often filled for Arsenal reserves.
However his record in the '89-90 season was second to none, with 14 goals in less than 30 senior appearances. He has scored in each of his last two full internationals (v Malta and Holland) and also scored three goals in two 'B' internationals.
With a much improved touch, on which he has worked hard, increased confidence since his £750,000 transfer to Manchester City in March, and his strength in the air, Quinn looks, like he could be here to stay.
At the other end of the pitch, goalkeeper Packie Bonner, has the right to be a little frustrated. In 270 minutes of World Cup final football,' he has been virtually redundant and yet he has had to take the ball out of the net twice.
He got so little to do against Egypt last Sunday that the rating-mad Italian sports papers decided he didn't even warrant a rating.
The goal that really galled him was Gary Lineker's strike in Cagliari. Recalled Packie: "He had six good strikes in Stuggart, where he did everything technically right but just couldn't finish.
“He did one thing wrong in Cagliari and it finished in the back of the net. He tried to chest the ball as he ran across the penalty area but it hit his shoulder instead, wrong footing me. That's football.”
In midfield, the gradual return to form of midfield whirlwind Ray Houghton is most encouraging. In Charlton's scheme of things, Houghton's stamina and sharpness down the right is vital to unhinge defences and recent poor Irish performances have had a lot to do with the Liverpool player’s on-going battle with injury.
The signs on Thursday were that he is ready for a repeat of his Euro '88 form and with a possibility of club-mate Ronnie Whelan lining up beside him at some stage during tomorrow's game — Sheedy may again be the player to lose out — the Liverpool one-two could be winning formula.