Noel King to sign off with victory over Kazakhstan

Robbie Keane looks set to return to side for final game of a troubled World Cup qualifying campaign

The Republic of Ireland squad get the feel of the Aviva Stadium before last night’s training session. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

The Republic of Ireland squad get the feel of the Aviva Stadium before last night’s training session. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

 



Noel King suggested on Sunday that his side had provided a wake-up call for the Germans who will, he said, know after Friday that there are problems to be addressed at the back ahead of the World Cup.

Kazakhstan, it might be remembered, provided a sort of similar service in reverse to Ireland, a year ago, by showing that it wasn’t the cream of Europe that Giovanni Trapattoni’s side could be terrible against. As it happens, though, the lesson on that occasion was obscured by two late goals that turned the night’s proceedings largely on its head.

Ireland’s interim manager says he wouldn’t have swapped that crack at the three times world champions for anything but the prospect of merely having to engineer some improvement against a side ranked 132 in the world is likely to hold an appeal of its own as the Dubliner contemplates what will most likely be his last game in the job. The only downside being that, if it proves beyond him, the TV pundits will be the least of his problems this time.

The 57-year-old reiterated his intention last night to start with the same basic formation but was less certain about the shift in emphasis that everybody will be expecting. “If we have to defend,” he said, “we won’t be embarrassed to.”

That much is fair enough; it is hard to think of an Irish home game that has passed without a spell in which Ireland found themselves on the back foot, but the extent to which he seemed to accept that the Kazakhs might dictate the pattern of the game – as they did for long stretches in Astana where they might have had another goal or two – wasn’t exactly inspiring.

Defending well
As it happens, the Kazakhs seem to be aiming no higher than defending well themselves. Nobody could blame them, of course, if that really is the limit of their ambitions, for a point here, to go with the one they earned at home to Austria and the four they took from the Faroe Islands, would represent a decent haul. It might not, however, do much to generate the “glorious” and “joyous” occasion they appear to have arrived expecting.

King’s responsibility will involve contributing on that front by giving home fans (however many that will be) something to cheer about and that’s likely to mean a significantly changed side to the one that played all 90 minutes on Friday night.

Robbie Keane looks set to return up front after training again last night and there should be a wider reshuffle behind him even if the manager avoided any specifics, perhaps because he has still, once again, to settle on a few of them.

Opinions are divided on whether Anthony Stokes did well against the Germans to have so many scoring chances, or poorly not to have put at least one of them away. However, King has not stopped talking him up so it seems unlikely that he will lose out completely.

A switch to the right of the three behind the skipper would present King with his first dilemma, whether to move Glenn Whelan to a holding midfield position or simply leave him out. Similar calls will have to be made in relation to Kevin Doyle and Stephen Kelly while, for all the talk of how difficult it will be to do it to them, Damien Delaney and Ciarán Clark look set to make way for the returning Richard Dunne and John O’Shea.

Clark might be a competitor for the left-back position although Joey O’Brien would be more logical given that he is playing there at present. Wilson’s performances in recent Ireland games, though, suggest he might be the best candidate with the northerner capable of getting forward down that flank in the way Séamus Coleman should be able to on the other.

King’s promise
Mobility in front of him will be important and Ireland need to live up to King’s promise to play at every opportunity. In Astana they settled too often for putting the ball high into a box densely populated by large locals who rarely had much difficulty dealing with the approach. The situation was crying out for Ireland to get the ball down and play with confidence through their opponents and, with King setting his stall to be precisely that, things really should go rather better this evening.

A win along with a couple of favourable results elsewhere would be the difference between being seeded to qualify for the next European Championships and being seeded to make the play-offs which, as our record in these things suggests, would be pretty significant.

“It’s not just about pride for the players because they’re still going to be around the place,” acknowledged King who clearly won’t be, at least not in his present role. “They’re going to be playing for a serious prize, the prize of staying as a second seed.” If he can help them to achieve that and, in doing so, makes his successor’s job a little more manageable, then the 57-year-old will return to the ranks with his head held high.