Following Tuesday night’s defeat to Switzerland, the task for Ireland is clear. Beat Denmark in Dublin next month and qualify for next summer’s European Championships.
That may be easier said than done however given Ireland’s disappointing recent displays against Georgia and Switzerland which saw them miss the opportunity of gaining a real foothold in the group.
It’s evident after the two games that change is required, but how should the Boys in Green set-up for the decider against Denmark?
Let’s take a look at an experimental XI McCarthy could deploy for what’s set to be the most important game of his second spell in charge of Ireland.
McCarthy may have completely thrown away his brief 5-3-2 experiment 28 minutes into the defeat to Switzerland but it could be the formation that gets the best out of the majority of the Irish players.
In goal, there is understandably no change given how well Darren Randolph has performed over the past couple of years despite his distribution sometimes lacking.
Seamus Coleman’s suspension means that Matt Doherty slots into his preferred position of right-wing back for the first time in an Irish jersey while Enda Stevens is the logical choice on the opposite flank given his outstanding performances for Sheffield United in the Premier League this season.
Shane Duffy when fit picks himself at the heart of the defence, as does John Egan who has benefitted from Richard Keogh’s injury and showed his quality with two fine displays against Georgia and Switzerland despite the disappointing results.
With another centre-half required, Burnley’s Kevin Long gets the nod, despite not featuring regularly at club level.
Ireland’s midfield has been a huge cause for concern during this campaign, particularly over the the last two games.
Glenn Whelan has been a tremendous servant to the Irish cause over the past decade but now that it appears James McCarthy is fully fit once again, the Crystal Palace man could be vital in the middle of the park for the Boys in Green.
McCarthy started his first game for Palace against West Ham two weeks ago and should have even more game time under his belt come next month making him the ideal candidate in one of the two holding roles.
Josh Cullen was excellent against Bulgaria and has been strong at club level for Charlton but it’s Aston Villa’s Conor Hourihane who gets the nod alongside McCarthy.
Hourihane has shown signs that he has the ability to become a key man for Ireland, and with Jack Byrne ahead of him and McCarthy doing more of the defensive work beside him, he could find the space to thrive.
The Villa man’s set-piece deliveries are also a huge plus.
Byrne is the final man in the midfield three and could in ways be the most crucial. The Shamrock Rovers man was bizarrely left out of the squad against the Swiss when his creativity was so badly needed.
The 23-year-old impressed against Bulgaria in his first cap and would be the ideal link man to knit the midfield and the attack, something that was so evidently missed against Georgia and Switzerland.
Ireland badly missed the quality of David McGoldrick up top against both Georgia and Switzerland, with the two games highlighting how valuable the Sheffield United man has become to this Irish side with his hold-up, link-up and all-round play a vital cog in McCarthy’s machine.
Last season, McGoldrick developed a hugely successful partnership at Bramall Lane with veteran striker Billy Sharp with the pair netting 38 goals between them, and the 31-year-old could be a huge help in the development of 19-year-old Aaron Connolly, who made his first start against Switzerland.
Connolly looked lively against Georgia when he came on but struggled with the style and conditions in Geneva on Tuesday night.
He is still only 19 and will continue to impress in the Premier League over the coming weeks however an experienced player like David McGoldrick could be the key to getting the best out of Connolly at international level.
It’s a front two that has incredible upside should they click from the off.
Here is the starting XI in full
Former Dublin football manager Jim Gavin has named the toughest county which his side faced during his hugely successful tenure. … Read More
John Egan scored a dramatic last-minute goal to give Sheffield United a 1-0 win over Wolverhampton Wanderers on Wednesday evening.… Read More
One of Ole Gunnar Solksjaer's main transfer objectives this summer is to find a long-term centre back partner for Harry… Read More
Jorge Masvidal has suffered a big setback ahead of his fight with welterweight champion Kamaru Usman at UFC 251 on… Read More
In our new series, ‘Showcase your Sport’, in association with the Irish Federation of Sport, we will be giving you… Read More
It took Manchester United six long years to find an adequate replacement for Peter Schmeichel. When Edwin van der Sar… Read More