McCarthy suggests Connolly might be set to start in Geneva
Ireland need one win from games against Switzerland and Denmark to reach Euros
Ireland’s Aaron Connolly with Jano Ananidze and Jaba Kankava of Georgia during Saturday’s game in Tbilisi, Georgia. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho
Mick McCarthy would happily have taken the position he and his players find themselves in now when the draw was made last December, the 60 year-old insists after Saturday’s combination of results left Ireland needing one win from two games against their main qualification rivals in order to get to the European Championships.
As the Swiss players tried to come to terms with their defeat in Copenhagen where yet another late goal piled the pressure on ahead of Tuesday’s game in Geneva, McCarthy was weighing up what changes are required to spark a much-needed improvement over his own side’s performance in Tbilisi where they drew 0-0. “It’s been a good campaign so far,” he said despite Saturday’s terribly below-par display.
“Of course the peddlers of doom and gloom will say well we’ve no chance of winning [away to the Swiss or at home to Denmark next month] but I don’t get that. Who knows what will happen? We’ve done better against the better sides, we’ve given better performances. So I’m looking forward to it. The pressure is on them on Tuesday night.”
There is certainly a fair amount of it on Vladimir Petkovic and his players after their defeat in Copenhagen. Yussuf Poulsen’s late goal marked the fourth time in this campaign they have dropped points after conceding in the last 10 minutes.
Fabian Schar described the situation as “stupid” and “naïve” over the weekend, while team captain Stephan Lichtsteiner claimed “the problem is in our heads”.
Wherever it resides it is certainly a factor after a game which Christian Eriksen, whose pass for the goal caught the Swiss defence completely flatfooted, admitted his side was lucky to win.
The question is how the conclusion of that game might affect McCarthy’s approach to this one. Had it ended in a stalemate in Copenhagen then two draws might have been enough for Ireland to finish in the group’s top two. Instead Ireland know they must win a game, with perhaps the most significant consequence of drawing this one being that the Danes will be through and so have nothing to play for in Dublin.
The Ireland manager seemed to suggest on Saturday night that Aaron Connolly might be set to start on Tuesday, although he also talked about how hard it was to tell whether the 19-year-old would have made such a positive impression had he been on from the outset in Tbilisi.
Yet through the closing stages he was Ireland’s greatest threat, and although he failed to convert a couple of chances, Poulsen’s winner in the other game was just the sort of goal that Connolly would seem far more likely than James Collins to grab.
“Well, you’ve seen him come on and do what he’s done,” said McCarthy of the Brighton striker in Tbilisi. “There’s always that ‘well, why didn’t he start’. Well, when you’re at the last 10 or 12 minutes, somebody who comes on like that can run in behind. If he’d started he might not have been the same. We might have to have a bit of help with him. He certainly won’t be a lone runner.”
That seemed to suggest that McCarthy might be considering a tactical shift in order to play somebody like Callum Robinson in a more central attacking role with Jeff Hendrick potentially moving back out to the right where the Sheffield United forward again struggled with the defensive side of things on Saturday afternoon.
Asked again about Connolly on Sunday by the association’s own in-house media, McCarthy remained somewhat equivocal but admitted: “I’ve no doubt he’s ready to start.”
Enda Stevens, meanwhile, seems certain to return to the team at left back, while David McGoldrick is definitely out of the game due to injury.