Brian Barry discusses the XI that he believes Ireland manager Martin O’Neill should deploy against Scotland on Friday.
Scotland are likely to line up as a 4-4-2, or 4-4-1-1. Although Ireland played with a more conservative 4-5-1 against Germany, Martin O’Neill’s side should go to Glasgow with more abandon, confident of getting a win.
In this regard, playing with a 4-4-2 system is a signal of intent, where the Boys in Green and match, and outplay, their Scottish counterparts.
GK: David Forde
Keiren Westwood made a serious case for inclusion in recent weeks, having ousted Chris Kirkland as the first choice goalkeeper at Sheffield Wednesday. But Westwood was not able to make the final squad.
David Forde has not let O’Neill down, and there is no reason for the Millwall shot-stopper to be dropped. He was solid in Gelsenkirchen, and could do nothing about Toni Kroos’ perfectly placed goal. The Galway native was nominated for Championship Player of the Month for October, as he kept three clean sheets. This is a straight-forward decision for O’Neill.
RB: Séamus Coleman
When fit, Séamus Coleman is the first name on the team-sheet. As luck would have it this time around, he is fit, and Gordan Strachan will be worried about the threat posed by the Everton right-back.
He won a penalty in the Toffee’s draw with Sunderland on Sunday, and his appetite for going forward is likely to cause Scotland real problems.
CB: John O’Shea and Richard Keogh.
If O’Shea were to be dropped, there would be a rebellion in Ireland. He has gained cult hero status amongst the Green Army following that goal. The Waterford native, in line to win his 101st cap, has the experience to deal with the big game pressure.
In the absence of Marc Wilson, Richard Keogh may be the man to slot in. Although there is much competition for the spot, this writer would opt for the Derby County captain. Keogh was central to the Rams’ run of six consecutive clean sheets through September and October, and possesses the cool head to deal with the threat of Steven Naismith and Steven Fletcher.
LB: Stephen Ward
Although suspect positionally in defence, the former Bohemians striker is dangerous going forward, and can hurt the Scots down the left flank. He has done enough so far in the green jersey, and has not been accountable for many goals conceded.
The Dubliner has broken into the Burnley side, and a confident Ward adds value to the rigid Irish back four. Sharing a flank with James McClean, he will know that he is covered if he is to make a mistake. Ireland are not embarrassed with riches at left-back, but this game may suit Ward.
LM: James McClean
After the annual poppy controversy has blown over, McClean can now concentrate on his game. Ireland are particularly strong on the wings, and if McClean were unable to make the side, Robbie Brady or Anthony Pilkington would slot in.
McClean has performed well so far in the campaign, and should Ireland go with Shane Long up front, Ireland will use the Wigan winger to their advantage in moving wide and putting in crosses. The Derry native is a serious talent, and Glasgow is the perfect platform for him to deliver.
CM: James McCarthy/Darron Gibson and Jeff Hendrick
Jeff Hendrick was a genuine threat in Gelsenkirchen. The 22-year-old is growing in confidence week in, week out. This was evident from his display against Wolves, but it was not only about his brace. The Dubliner was everywhere, and should be on the starting 11 on Friday evening.
If fit, McCarthy must start, despite the promised hostility from the home fans. He is Ireland’s most creative midfielder, and after a man of the match display against Lille last week, the Everton midfielder is showing signs of top form.
In McCarthy’s absence, his club-mate Darron Gibson is perfectly suited to slotting in. Having impressed when introduced in Germany, Gibson seems to have put his injuries behind him, and fans can be confident he is able to do a job at Celtic Park.
RM: Aiden McGeady
With a wealth of experience, one would expect McGeady not to be fazed by the intimidating home crowd. If there is somebody on this Ireland team used to hostile atmospheres, it is McGeady.
While he made some poor decisions against Germany, the inferior Scottish defence will be seriously worried by the prospect of facing the Everton winger.
Striker: Robbie Keane
Keano has been on form with LA Galaxy, and time and time again, has proven his appetite for the big occasion. Despite struggling to play up front on his own against the big opposition, he can feed off Shane Long, and has the ability to find the net.
With 65 international goals to his name, few would bet against the 34-year-old adding to that tally in Celtic Park.
Striker: Shane Long
Irish fans are getting impatient with Shane Long, considering the Tipperary native has just 11 international goals to show for his 49 caps. But if there is something to be learned from looking at his form in previous seasons, is that he never seems to have isolated good performances.
Rather the 27 year-old puts a run of three or four games back to back where he scores. Having bagged a brace at the weekend for high-flying Southampton, Long’s tail is up, and it is not inconceivable that he may repeat the feat in Glasgow.
Brian Barry, Pundit Arena.
Do you agree with our selection? How would your XI line out?