Friday 15 December 2017

Stephen Hunt: Here's why it's vital that Glenn Whelan starts for Ireland in away games

Some of the talk about Glenn Whelan has been very harsh. Picture: Sportsfile
Some of the talk about Glenn Whelan has been very harsh. Picture: Sportsfile
Stephen Hunt

Stephen Hunt

With the way Martin O'Neill and James McClean publicly spoke after Moldova, I'm willing to bet the manager used the press as pre-match motivation. It just felt like it fed down from the top.

No player likes getting criticised, but you have to take it - that's the game. There is one element of criticism, however, that I feel has been unfair. Some of the talk about Glenn Whelan has been very harsh.

People question his passing but, to explain his value, let me spin it. There's nothing worse than when your holding midfielder is wandering everywhere. You just don't feel confident attacking, and you're going into different places to receive the ball, because you're worried about counters. It affects your whole focus.

Whelan, however, is positionally very good. A lot of central midfielders automatically want to get involved, but he stays and does his job. That job is to pick up the pieces, claim second balls, and be there for the counter - as he always is. That's why he plays every week for Stoke. The manager appreciates his discipline and what he does for the team. He's always pointing and organising. I think we need him in away games; he's a vital part of the team, make no mistake.

There was one big mistake, of course, for the Moldovan goal. Being blunt, it was the worst I've seen us concede since my debut against San Marino in 2007. I felt sorry for Shane Duffy as, in chasing that, he would no doubt have had his red card against France on his mind, thinking 'do I foul him, do I not?'. It would have been easy to lunge and take the red, but he showed mental strength in staying on his feet.

It leads you to believe he can learn and improve, although he did leave it open for O'Neill to bring John O'Shea back in.

O'Neill maybe has a decision in attack, too, as I thought the front three were excellent with Wes behind them. McClean, Shane Long and Jon Walters almost played as three strikers and just bullied Moldova.

We're also in a strong position in the group - 14 points could be enough.

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