Sunday 22 July 2018

Burnley duo remain main Irish concern for Georgia

Robbie Brady gets the better of Tottenham’s Mousa Dembele during yesterday’s match at Wembley. Photo: Mike Hewitt/Getty Images
Robbie Brady gets the better of Tottenham’s Mousa Dembele during yesterday’s match at Wembley. Photo: Mike Hewitt/Getty Images
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

Martin O'Neill checked in at Croke Park yesterday for some relaxation time ahead of a big week.

He watched a one-sided contest. Ireland's double header with Georgia and Serbia should be much more competitive.

O'Neill's squad gather in Abbotstown today and the FAI will only finalise his trimmed down panel ahead of the first session of the week leading up to Saturday's game in Tbilisi.

That will be followed by the visit of fellow joint group leaders Serbia to Dublin three days later.

Burnley is the main hub for Irish news this year and, while Jon Walters' absence from their draw with Spurs was expected, the news that Jeff Hendrick missed out confirmed that his thigh problem is a real concern.

The key duo are expected to report to be assessed by Irish medical staff and the FAI said last night that nobody has been ruled out at this juncture.

There was good news from that Wembley encounter for O'Neill with a rejuvenated Robbie Brady threading a superb injury time through ball for Chris Wood that resulted in the underdogs grabbing a draw and another notable result in London.

Brady scored in the midweek EFL Cup win at Blackburn and has earned praise for his performances this term having not exactly set the world alight at Turf Moor following his January move from Norwich.

His versatility has led to Brady functioning in a variety of positions and he thrived against Spurs when switched from the left side to the right where he cut inside to make a key contribution.

With question marks over Hendrick, and Stephen Ward match sharp at left-back, then it's entirely possible Brady will feature in midfield in the Georgia and Serbia encounters.

O'Neill did suggest after the summer draw with Austria that Brady and Hendrick had struggled to recapture their Euro 2016 form so a bright start to the campaign from the set-piece specialist is encouraging.

Keiren Westwood is the latest injury worry for O'Neill after he left the park during the first half of Sheffield Wednesday's Championship game at Burton.

Westwood was on the receiving end of a poor challenge from Marvin Sordell and tried to play on before hobbling off.

He later posted a picture of a heavily bruised right knee and expressed the wish that his problem was just that and not a ligament issue.

The 32-year-old is O'Neill's second choice keeper with Darren Randolph preferred against Austria in June when there appeared to be a contest between the two due to the latter's inactive end to the season at West Ham.

His subsequent move to Middlesbrough has led to a solid run of games where he has earned praise and he's primed to start in Tbilisi. O'Neill will offer a full bulletin on the rest of his squad today.

Georgia will be without two important players for Saturday.

Tornike Okriashvili, who scored Georgia's goal against Ireland on their last visit in September 2014, is out of the game through injury.

Head coach Vladimir Weiss will also be without Italian-based striker Levan Mchedlidze, which robs him of two of the more experienced players on his panel.

Georgia have quite a young squad and are still searching for their first win in this qualifying campaign, despite impressing in Dublin last October and drawing away to Wales in Cardiff.

They also drew both home and away with Moldova in games where they might have expected to get three points on the board, however.

Serbia face Moldova before coming to Ballsbridge and their main men appear to have come through unscathed with Aleksandar Mitrovic on target in Newcastle's win over West Ham along with team-mate Ciaran Clark, who will be trying to subdue the striker on Tuesday week.

Irish Independent

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