Opportunity knocks for Sammon as Trapattoni makes a contentious call
Manager places trust in Derby striker to replace the injured Keane
A good many of those who are liable to be critical of Ireland ’s regular captain might wonder a little more about the wisdom of wishing him away after Giovanni Trapattoni confirmed Conor Sammon as Shane Long ’s partner in attack for Ireland’s vital World Cup qualifier against Austria this evening.
More plausible options, given the manager’s track record, included throwing the recalled Kevin Doyle straight into the team, starting Simon Cox or moving Jon Walters forward and reintroducing Robbie Brady to the right wing.
The Italian was having none of any of them, though, hailing instead the Derby striker as the most positive option available to him for a game, he acknowledges, which needs to be won.
Elsewhere, the bulk of the team is unchanged from Friday night but Glenn Whelan , as the manager had signalled he would, returns in place of Paul Green and Stephen Kelly stands by for what would be quite a return in the event that Marc Wilson fails a fitness test today on a groin strain.
Still, it was Sammon’s selection for his first competitive start that dominated yesterday’s pre-match press conference.
“I have chosen him because I think his qualities can give Shane (Long) the best support,” he said. “Physically he is good; quick and strong when it comes to heading the ball.
“He showed us in the last game (against Poland ) what he can do and if you remember a few years people asked why I played Folan? Like him, Sammon is a player who can make us strong up front physically but also technically do very well.”
Folan, as it happens, was never exactly a universally popular choice but few can dispute the scale of his contribution in, say, Bari where, after coming on for Andy Keogh after just 22 minutes, he helped Ireland to a draw against Italy.
Similarly, some of Trapattoni’s other big calls – throwing Sean St Ledger in away to Bulgaria or even Paul Green the other night – have paid off for the 74-year-old but that didn’t entirely prevent an air of scepticism descending on yesterday’s proceedings.
Trapattoni stood firm, though, producing a lengthy explanation for the decision to omit Hoolahan before producing a far more succinct version: “I love Wes but we have to think about the opposition.”
Brady's exclusion was justified along similar lines with Trapattoni pointing to Austria’s left back and skipper, Christian Fuchs of Schalke 04, as an attacking threat himself down that flank that needs to be contained and Walters as a man who is more likely to achieve the goal.
There may be less room for debate there than when the manager cites Sammon’s performance against Poland as being part of the case for his inclusion. Nevertheless, the Dubliner’s strike-rate for Derby this year compares well enough with that of any player to have been overlooked.
The hope now will be that the manager’s instincts are correct and that the 26 year-old can rise to what will undoubtedly be the biggest occasion of his career to date.
A great deal may depend for him, as for the team generally, on whether Wilson is declared fit to play with the Northerner’s contribution to the attacking side of the Irish game something that would clearly be missed. Kelly, whose return would be quite a story in itself after his previous fall-out with the manager, is set to deputise.
With his participation under threat and Hoolahan overlooked, Trapattoni was asked where the team might find the creativity that was missing in Stockholm as tonight’s hosts look to move beyond being hard to beat.
“We have never had many creative players in the team since I took the job,” he said, “and when I took it I watched the previous 20 games on DVD and I don’t remember too many shows. Now, we can win and sometimes produce good football like we did against Bulgaria, Montenegro and Georgia. ”
In fact, only one of those sides was actually beaten and it goes almost without saying that the manager would take the points over any sort of ‘performance’ tonight.
His side’s general inability to beat even mid-ranking opponents at home must be a concern although Ireland have, over the last few years, overcome a few sides – Albania, Wales and Macedonia – currently ranked by Fifa above tonight’s visitors.
That said, the Austrians have an impressive record against Ireland, having almost single-handedly kept them away from Euro 96 and lost only once in six competitive meetings.
Their 10 goals in two home games against the Faroes and Kazakhstan certainly suggest that on home soil they can put lesser teams away with a ruthlessness which Ireland struggle to achieve. But then they dropped points in Astana where Trapattoni’s men fought back to win and manager Marcel Koller ’s main dilemma, funny enough, seems to boil down to which of two in-form strikers – Philipp Hosiner or Marc Janko – to go with.
Whether Ireland can beat them tonight depends very much on whether they can retain the many positive aspects of Friday’s performance while adding a threat from midfield and the sort of service to the strikers that gives them a reasonable prospect of finding the net.
Against Sweden it never really happened, with a couple of half-chances produced early on but almost nothing after that.
This time around, Shane Long might fancy his chances of getting the better of Emanuel Pogatetz and Aleksander Dragovic to grab his first goal in a competitive game since the defeat by Russia two-and-a-half years ago. How sweet it would be for Trapattoni however, if Sammon were the one to produce the goods.
Republic of Ireland: Forde (Millwall); Coleman (Everton), O'Shea (Sunderland), (Clark), Wilson (Stoke City); Walters (Stoke City), Whelan (Stoke City), McCarthy (Wigan athletic), McClean (Sunderland); Long (West Brom), Sammon (Derby County).
Austria (probable): Lindner (Austria Vienna ); Garics (Bolonga), Dragovic (Basel), Pogatetz (West Ham), Fuchs (Schalke 04); Alaba (Bayern Munich ), Kavlak (Besiktas); Arnautovic (Werder Bremen ), Junuzovic (Werder Bremen), Ivanschitz (Mainz); Janko (Trabzonspor).
Referee: Marijo Strahonja (Croatia )