Uruguay error leaves Martin O’Neill with decision to make
After Darren Randolph’s error against Uruguay, Martin O’Neill has to decide on ‘keeper
Ireland goalkeeper Darren Randolph: will Martin O’Neill consider him a keeper for Sunday’s World Cup qualifier against Austria? Photograph: Ashley Cahill/Action Plus via Getty Images
The performance of Harry Arter might have given Martin O’Neill a slightly more complicated call to make in midfield ahead of next Sunday’s World Cup qualifier, but the Ireland manager has a straightforward either/or decision to make with regard to which goalkeeper to start against Austria.
Darren Randolph has been his undisputed number one since O’Neill turned to him rather than David Forde when Shay Given got injured against Germany in October 2015, with the 30-year-old starting 16 of 20 games since and featuring in another two. Just five games into the current qualifying campaign, he is already the only one of O’Neill’s men to have played every minute of every match, and yet the manager came away from Sunday’s friendly against Uruguay admitting that he has “plenty to contemplate” with regard to the position between now and the weekend.
There is a general feeling that Randolph has done little to let the side down in competitive games, but his error in coming for a free kick he failed to reach on Sunday has echoes of the criticisms that have been levelled at him over the course of the club season at West Ham, where Slaven Bilic eventually opted to bring Adrian back in towards the end of the season.
Aside from the goal on Sunday, there was something characteristic about the Wicklowman’s earlier decision to cut back inside Edinson Cavani when he might have simply got the ball clear. He got away with that one – though only just – but there is a sense that he might not be quite risk-averse enough for his own good sometimes.
Certainly opponents would be made aware of his willingness to take the odd chance, and it might only be a matter of time before his getting second-guessed proves costly for Ireland.
That all said, the case to be made for Keiren Westwood replacing him is largely based on his club form, but that has been in the Championship where clearly goalkeepers do not have to deal with the likes of Alexis Sánchez bearing down on them.
Sheffield Wednesday did concede the lowest number of goals of any club outside of that league’s top two, and his save on Sunday from a second-half set-piece was a timely reminder to O’Neill of what he can do. But there was an earlier fumble, too, that Cavani, not to mention Luis Suárez, might well have punished had they been out there for Uruguay at the time.
Westwood did have a brief spell as Ireland’s number one, but was ultimately replaced by David Forde over the course of the last World Cup campaign. The persistent questions over the extent of his commitment – dismissed by him but prompted by repeated withdrawals because of injury – have contributed to a situation in which there have always been those who believed he should be first choice even as he has struggled to establish himself as the team’s number two. He might fancy his chances of getting back to the top of the queue this week.
“I’ve been very pleased with both goalkeepers [BUT)], do you know what, I have plenty to contemplate,” said O’Neill in the wake of Sunday’s game. “Obviously I knew Westy at club level and you know my view of Westy, he’s a really talented goalkeeper.
“I think he’s got over the team losing out in the play-offs and I think he made a really good save. And Darren . . . I don’t think he’s let us down too often.”
O’Neill insisted that the decision to switch the pair at half-time had been part of the plan from before the kick-off, and that Randolph’s error was simply “part of the game”, although he did seem suggest it would still come into consideration as part of the decision-making process.
‘Behind the curtain’
“We would have a look at these things and it might not just be that, there might be other little aspects in the game that we have to look at. We sat down and watched some of that Mexico game back, okay, from behind the curtain, I must admit, but we watched the game and players have to look at it.
“We do have to look at these things and even the youngest players in the side have to learn. John Egan has to learn, these boys have to learn. The midfielders, young Horgan is starting his career in England at this minute, has to pick up, same with O’Dowda. These boys have to learn things. They may as well have them pointed out to them, even the more experienced boys have to pick up.”
The difference is, of course, that O’Neill does not have to play Egan, Horgan or O’Dowda against Austria, and none of the three seems remotely likely to start. The only obvious outfield conundrum the manager faces appears to boil down to which two from Arter, Glenn Whelan and Wes Hoolahan he starts.
Having previously said there is “nothing between them”, he might well feel that Randolph continues to deserve the benefit of the doubt. Still, there is the strong sense that the goalkeeper’s gloves are very much up for grabs and Sunday might not be the end of it.