Wednesday 21 March 2018

Steven Reid: Plan B key – and Hoolahan is man to unlock the door

Steven Reid

Steven Reid

ALL the top managers I've worked with have always made the utilisation of their substitutes a big part of their strategy. The Plan B is as important as the Plan A.

There is no excuse for Giovanni Trapattoni not having a coherent Plan B going into tonight's game, and I hope that Wes Hoolahan is a part of it. Our changes have to be about more than just a token sub to freshen the game up.

Roy Hodgson and Steve Clarke place a huge emphasis on having something different on the bench that can change the game, and I strongly feel that Wes can be the joker in the pack tonight.

It's taken long enough for Trapattoni to put him in the squad, even though he's shown his Premier League quality for Norwich. After his goalscoring contribution against Poland, it would make no sense not to use him at some point.

We have to feel that we can pose this Swedish team problems; they've had a lot of defensive issues of late and have conceded nine goals in their past three matches.

Wes is the player who can produce something special, provide that bit of creativity. If we are struggling to break them down, he is capable of unlocking that door.

We've been talking a lot about this match in the West Brom dressing-room. Between myself and Shane Long, and Jonas Olsson and Markus Rosenberg, the banter has been flying. Sometimes, international games can be a step into the unknown, but these teams know plenty about each other.

Wes (pictured right) is the man in reserve with the spark but, if we're going to hurt them from the start, the battle between Shane and Jonas is going to be key.

It can be strange when you come across a club colleague with your country; for me, it always acted as an extra incentive, so you didn't have to hear all about it when you got back to work.

Certainly, there'll be no love lost between Shane and Jonas during the game. Jonas, who will be playing at centre-half, is the moaniest player I know. He's constantly at it, but he does some of the ugly stuff really well for us at West Brom. Upsetting opponents, unsettling strikers, that's part of his game. Longy will know his strengths and weaknesses and it wouldn't surprise me if they had a few rows. The gaffer will go mad if one of them comes back injured, but there's always that possibility.

I'm delighted that Longy is getting the chance to start after being forced to watch so many games from the bench. I think he senses that it's a big opportunity and he was determined to be there, even though he's been troubled by an ankle injury over the past month. Those knocks are always going to be an occupational hazard for him given the way he operates.

He works his socks off, puts his body on the line, and defenders absolutely hate playing against him. So, for me, it's a positive that he's featuring.

There are other ways in which we can hurt them too; Seamus Coleman gives us an option from right-back and James McClean and Robbie Brady could make this their breakthrough match. But you can't attack from the wings without central protection and that is probably why Trap has opted for Paul Green ahead of James McCarthy, but that's still a surprise.

I know that everybody is wary of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and the threat he poses (this may sound strange, but I don't even remember him playing in 2006, when he went off injured in Stan's first match in charge), but I'm still of the opinion that if McCarthy is fit, you go with the established Premier League option. I don't think we've seen the best of him in an Irish shirt yet but then Mick McCarthy always said to me that it takes 10 games to feel really comfortable.

Personally, it was only at the end of my international career that I really felt established in the centre of the park.

Considering Trapattoni seemed to be making a big statement by putting him in at the start of the campaign, I find it strange that he wouldn't stick with him now and build his confidence by getting him used to this stage. Maybe it's a sign that the manager is thinking short-term implications. He knows that the price of failure in these two games could be costly, so he's making the conservative call.

From what I hear, there's been a real big-match mood around the place this week. There's such a difference between the build-up to the friendlies and the competitive matches like this one; for starters, there's never as many injury withdrawals, funnily enough.

And there's a real edge around the hours in the hotel leading up to it. This is where the big characters like Robbie Keane will come to the fore.

You can't avoid the significance of the game. While the lads will get the head down on the training ground, they'll be discussing the implications with their room-mate, mulling over the options of what we need to take from the games.

What's my gut feeling? Maybe I'm an eternal optimist – I was positive before the German match and look what happened.

The Euros have knocked the wind out of the sails of everybody, possibly even including the management, and it's taken a while to adjust but, if we get back to our best – the solid, defensive side that can get big results away from home – and place trust in the players that can hurt Sweden, we can keep our qualification hopes alive.

A draw would do nicely.

Irish Independent

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport