Ireland take on Moldova on Friday in a must-win game at the Aviva Stadium as time is running out for the Boys in Green as they bid to reach the World Cup in Russia next year.
Martin O’Neill adopted a loyal approach to squad selections in the past. However, his selection of Kevin Long against Austria and fond words about Sean Magure and Scott Hogan suggest there could be some unpredictable selections.
O’Neill must plan without the suspended Jame McClean and Robbie Brady with Jon Walters out through injury. James McCarthy and Harry Arter also look set to miss out through injury, both could have represented a promising midfield partnership.
However, the remaining spots are certainly up for grabs. With Ireland needing a win against Moldova and a confidence-boosting display before the Wales tie, we examine a number of potential starting elevens as well as some predictions to how the selection could shape up.
Martin O’Neill’s side have pulled off some big results using the 4-4-2 diamond variation with wins against Germany, Bosnia and Italy to name a few.
With James McClean out, it gives Ireland the freedom to line up this way given the Derryman’s struggle in this same shape against Serbia. David Meyler will be likely to continue at the base ahead of the out of form Glenn Whelan.
Jeff Hendrick thrived on the right central role in the past with the left-footed Conor Hourihane providing perfect balance on the opposite side. Up front, it is hard to look past the in-form Daryl Murphy and the experienced Shane Long although O’Neill could spring a surprise by playing Scott Hogan or Sean Maguire.
He did after all through Kevin Long into the deep end against Austria.
One of O’Neill’s preferences in the past although he has often played with more of a flat midfield five. Glenn Whelan will be likely to regain his place in the event a midfield two is selected should Harry Arter be ruled out, however, O’Neill seems to have taken a shine to the in-form Conor Hourihane.
He could strike up a nice partnership with fellow Corkman David Meyler. It is unlikely Meyler will be dropped after his man of the match display against Serbia.
Wes Hoolahan is accommodated and showed in the away fixture that he can pick the locks in this Moldova defence. Daryl Murphy gets the nod over Shane Long by virtue of his far superior form.
Similar personnel to the last two line-ups with Daryl Horgan the new name. Although he has struggled for game time at Preston, the Galweigen has impressed during his brief cameo’s for Ireland and it is hard to understand how he has yet to earn a competitive cap.
Like McGeady, he has the technical ability and creativity needed to break down the stubborn Moldovan’s yet has the work rate to support his fullbacks. The midfield three could be a number of variations but given both Jeff Hendrick and Conor Hourihane’s competence on either side of a midfield three, it could be a well balanced and winning combination.
Harry Arter could have slotted in nicely to the holding role if fit but David Meyler again gets the nod on international form.
A tough call between Long and Murphy in this fluid formation.
The likely lads
Not far off the second above lineup, the 4-2-3-1 with this personnel would be a safe bet in O’Neill’s eyes.
Glenn Whelan is likely to start alongside David Meyler in any case, Jeff Hendrick has played on the right of this formation in the past, mainly to accommodate Seamus Coleman’s swashbuckling runs. O’Neill fancies Hendrick as a number 10 and he could slot in there ahead of Wes Hoolahan.
Aiden McGeady and Shane Long are the most experienced in their positions in the squad although O’Neill could spring a surprise by handing a first start to Callum O’Dowda or even sticking Sean Maguire or Scott Hogan up top.
The in-form XI
These types of line-ups don’t often manifest into reality but it is refreshing to know that Ireland have plenty of players in great form.
Two of Ireland stand-out players over the last few weeks, Liam Kelly and Matt Doherty did not even make the provisional squad but there is still plenty of talent left.
Darren Randolph looks a new player since his move to Middlesborough but Rob Elliot is putting in some fine performances at a higher level. The back four are all performing well domestically, in particular, Elliot’s teammate Ciaran Clark, while Shane Duffy edges Richard Keogh who has impressed for Derby.
Conor Hourihane and in particular Eunan O’Kane are enjoying fantastic starts to the season. O’Kane finally showcasing his talents as a technically gifted box-to-box midfielder full of energy and creativity.
Aiden McGeady is in fine form following injury while Sean Maguire looks at home out of position on the wing for Preston.
Daryl Murphy and his former Ipswich Teammate David McGoldrick have six goals each in all competitions this season.
Some selection predictions….
1. Callum O’Dowda to start with James McClean and Robbie Brady out.
2.One of Sean Maguire or Scott Hogan to earn their first start or come off the bench.
3.Aiden McGeady to miss out on a starting place despite his form.
4.David Meyler to retain his place.
5.Daryl Murphy’s form to be rewarded with a start.
Nick Menezes, Pundit Arena
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