herald

Monday 23 October 2017

O'Neill Scot a problem

Wes and Whelan loss could be critical in Glasgow

Martin O'Neill
Martin O'Neill

ANXIETY levels are already rising for Martin O'Neill ahead of that massive Euro 2016 qualifier away to Scotland in just 21 days' time as the Ireland boss may be forced to go into battle with a patched-up midfield, with Glenn Whelan and Wes Hoolahan almost certain to miss the tie along with Andy Reid.

And the absence of those players could force O'Neill's hand on a number of fronts, with a senior summons for Jack Grealish back on the agenda again in view of injuries to Hoolahan and Reid.

The November 14th meeting of Ireland and Scotland in Glasgow will have a big say in qualification for France 2016, and after a seven-point haul from the opening games against Georgia, Gibraltar and Germany, if Ireland can avoid defeat in Scotland they will be in a strong position for the next test in the group, at home to Poland in March.

The Scots were already nervous about the game, as evidence by a request from Gordon Strachan to the Scottish FA to consider playing the game in Aberdeen (Hampden Park is unavailable) to restrict the number of Irish fans likely to attend.

But Ireland's cause is now looking tougher due to that injury list. Stoke City have confirmed that Whelan could be out for up to six weeks with an injury which he picked up in the 1-1 draw in Germany last week

Practically an ever-present in competitive games since he made his debut in 2008, Whelan has told boss Mark Hughes that he hopes to be back fit for the Scotland game but Hughes has expressed his doubts.

"Glenn has unfortunately got a fracture in his leg. He got a kick on the outside of his leg and there's slight fracture there," Hughes said.

"He hasn't been put into plastercast because Glenn feels he will get back sooner. But the likelihood is he will be out for four to six weeks, which is a blow because big part of what we are doing.

"And it's blow for him because he's been playing really well of late. As for Ireland, knowing Glenn he'll try and make himself available, but my feeling is the game will be too soon for him. You have to let nature take it course. With fractures you have to give them enough time to heal."

Whelan's absence would be a blow to O'Neill as the Dubliner is a key part of this Irish midfield and few players can play that holding role as well as Whelan.

His injury means that James McCarthy, Darron Gibson, Jeff Hendrick and Stephen Quinn are all now firmly in contention to start in central midfield against the Scots, with David Meyler - used as an emergency right back in the last two qualifiers - also an option.

O'Neill''s attacking options for Scotland are also now limited and, as he ponders the idea of dropping Robbie Keane to play Shane Long as a lone front man, the Ireland boss has a conundrum over who to play behind the main striker, a role tailor-made for Hoolahan but now O'Neill may now be forced to play Aiden McGeady there, as the Glasgow native did away to Germany.

Andy Reid, who last played for Ireland in O'Neill's debut game against Latvia 11 months ago, has been sidelined at Nottingham Forest, missing their last eight games, and Stuart Pearce has no clear idea when the Dubliner will return.

And Hoolahan is now expected to miss the Parkhead trip. "Wes went to see the specialist on Wednesday, and he's going to be out for a number of weeks. It's ankle ligament damage, as we first feared," Norwich boss Neil Adams said yesterday.

"It's a shame, obviously you keep your fingers crossed but it's going to be number of weeks before he's back with us unfortunately."

Grealish has been mentioned as a possible temporary replacement for Reid at Forest with a mooted loan move from Aston Villa, but O'Neill, who has been keen to play down the fuss over Grealish's international future, could be forced to speed things up and get Grealish into the senior squad for the November double header against Scotland and the USA due to the lack of attacking options.

And Hendrick may now get a chance to build on his impressive sub appearance in Germany by working his way into the starting XI for Parkhead.

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