Preview: Irish Pinning Hopes on a Wing and a Prayer

THE IRISH players are talking the talk ahead of the crunch home game against Russia. They are ready to show their worth against the big sides in the group. However, the visitors will still be expected to boss proceedings at Lansdowne Road and if our backs are to the wall, Ireland may need to wing it.

Despite his obvious talent, Aiden McGeady often displays an unwillingness to track back. Perhaps frustrated at his own end product, the winger can simply stop playing if his final ball doesn’t come off or if he is dispossessed.

If Russia plan on soaking up Irish pressure and hitting us on the counter-attack, particularly down our left flank, McGeady will need to snap out of that fairly quickly.

The loss of Duff is a massive blow to Ireland. While he may have just returned from injury, his form last year for Fulham was like the Duffer of old and his display in Paris was quite outstanding.

Liam Lawrence was excellent as an attacking outlet in the opening qualifier against Armenia but he didn’t offer the same threat when Andorra came to Dublin.

McGeady, likewise, frustrated with his final ball. Duff’s ability to take on an opponent and deliver a telling cross was lacking and will be badly missed against Russia.

Having said that, McGeady has had an explosive start to life in Moscow and we can expect him to be extra-motivated to put one over the Russians.

Liam Lawrence is a hardy player who gives his all for Ireland. He won’t be found wanting in the physical challenge that awaits.

The danger for Ireland would be that Russia will eye Kevin Kilbane as a weak link.

To that end, reports suggest Vladimir Bystrov of Zenit St. Petersberg could be deployed on the right wing.

The 26-year-old was introduced for the final half hour of Russia’s shock defeat to Slovakia when a mistake by goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev was punished by Miroslav Stoch.

Arsenal’s Andrei Arshavin disappointed in that game but the diminutive dynamo will still be relied upon to open up the Irish defence. He can operate in a striker’s role but we shouldn’t rule out seeing him pop up on the opposite wing to extract some joy from the dodgy Kilbane-McGeady partnership.

John O’Shea and Liam Lawrence will provide a much more physical obstacle on Ireland’s right side and they could well keep Arshavin quiet for much of the 90 minutes.

Kilbane bleeds green and can always be relied on for effort, but he needs protection. And McGeady needs to realise that from the off.

Russia were top seeds going into the qualifiers. Their falure to qualify for the World Cup, along with Slovakia’s heroics in South Africa and their win in Moscow could suggest that Advocaat side’s have slipped to the second ranked team in the group.

On the other hand, Ireland will feel their performances against Italy, Bulgaria, and France, built on with solid displays against Algeria, Paraguay, Argentina and our opening group wins, render those seedings void.

We will be reliant our midfield to stop Russia. Paul Green impressed in his first appearances but struggled when the competitive action got under way. He needs a big game. Creativity will have to come from the wings but Russia may well enjoy large amounts of possession at Lansdowne and that’s when Irish defence will be key.

With Shay Given potentially rusty and Richard Dunne in danger of not completing the ninety minutes, we need others to step up to the plate.

Kilbane’s effort and loyalty should demand that others protect him. If he isn’t up to it, Trap should bite the bullet and introduce Seamus Coleman from the bench.

Coleman’s confidence will be sky-high at the moment. The crowd will urge him to succeed and John O’Shea can easily slot in at left-back if Kilbane is struggling.

On the other hand, Kilbane has triumphed over adversity throughout his career. He’ll be up against it against Russia. It’s up to McGeady to prove an able wingman.

First posted, Oct 2010

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