Brian Kerr: Ireland need to adopt positive approach

Martin O’Neill’s side cannot afford to sit on delicate advantage earned in Bosnia

John O’Shea is available for selection after suspension. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho

John O’Shea is available for selection after suspension. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho

 

The work will have been intense for Martin O’Neill and Mehmed Bazdarevic since Friday. A game to be re-watched and studied, a long flight to Dublin, players’ fitness and well-being to be assessed. Massive decisions to be made, the outcome of which can boost or diminish a nation’s morale.

Neither coach has had much time for on-field coaching, with tired players recovering from the intensity of Friday’s battle. I don’t, then, expect to see any significant changes in the tactical approach of either team. Only the personnel will change.

Despite O’Neill’s downplaying of that away goal, Ireland do hold a considerable advantage going in to the second leg, and there will be a strong temptation to sit on that delicate advantage. But that’s a dangerous mindset.

With a raucous, expectant home crowd, we’ll more likely see Ireland attack and open up more. That could offer our opponents more space and time to counter attack, but still, I would prefer O’Neill’s team to seek to dominate possession, play in the opposition half and ensure we always have at least four outfield players in good defensive positions to deal with the counter.

Experience

The reappearance of John O’Shea and Shane Long at training was good news, but it would be a risk to include either from the start. After Richard Keogh and Ciaran Clark’s outstanding displays, the coach may leave well enough alone, despite John’s experience.

And while Wes Hoolahan had little attacking impact on Friday, I hope he is not abandoned for tonight. Even Lionel Messi would have struggled to get on the ball had he played in the number 10 role for Ireland, such was the paucity of passes from the back through the midfield area. Surely our midfield will have more controlled possession tonight.

Second Captains

Of course, the presence of Jon Walters on the right will ensure more physical competition and possession in the opposition half, but while the temptation to start Long will be significant, he hasn’t played since being injured in Warsaw over a month ago. That’s a big decision for the manager. I suspect another second half intro for the Tipp man – unless Daryl Murphy is not fit to start.

Presuming Glenn Whelan and James McCarthy start in midfield, either Jeff Hendrick, who did a good job neutralising the dangerous Sampdoria left-back Ervin Zukanovic, Hoolahan or Robbie Brady will have to be dropped. Brady’s omission is unlikely, given his goal in Zenica and his set-piece deliveries.

So I will let you chew on that one, Martin – and I won’t be upset if you throw James McClean in either. His selection would signal a pointedly positive approach.

But just as our manager has some better options now, so has Bazdarevic. He too will have been annoyed by his midfield’s poor use of possession, but with Everton’s Muhamed Besic now available, I can see him and Haris Medunjanin of Deportivo La Coruña coming in to centre midfield. Besic’s inclusion would allow key man Miralem Pjanic closer to Edin Dzeko, who I expect to see higher, where he will be more of a threat than Vedad Ibisevic.

Bazdarevic certainly has players in his squad who are proven goalscorers at this level – Medunjanin, unused on Friday, got two from midfield away to Cyprus – but their performance on Friday confirmed my opinion that they are an average team.

Still, I’m nervous. They’re ropey defensively, having conceded eight goals in their away games in Israel, Belgium and Cyprus, but they are a better technical team than the nervous, loose-passing one we saw last time.

Beaten with ease

Our inconsistent home form, with only Gibraltar beaten with ease, does not allow for over-confidence or complacency either.

With no fog, rain or wind forecast for tonight, maybe a real game of international football might even break out.

However, even if the ball gets a bit of respect from both teams, I expect a nervy, tense night with the big prize earned by a narrow margin.

Good luck with the deliberations, Martin.

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