Saturday 22 October 2016

Hendrick is the man to fill goal gap

Jeff Hendrick. Pic: Sportsfile
Jeff Hendrick. Pic: Sportsfile

Martin O'Neill wants a hero to emerge from midfield and help supply the goals which can take Ireland all the way to Russia.

Admitting that he badly needs other options up front for Georgia, O'Neill will ask midfield men like Jeff Hendrick to fill the gap created by injuries and Robbie Keane's retirement.

"Look at any team you'll have a goal scoring midfielder among them. The encouragement is there now that Jeff has broken his international duck and scored a goal for for Burnley," said the Ireland boss.

"In terms of confidence and actually playing in the biggest league of all, that should give him a great boost.

"I just want him to continue in the same vein as he has been going in an upward line."

As ever, O'Neill gave nothing away about his team selection other than to confirm that Seamus Coleman would start as captain and that James McCarthy would be fit.

And as ever, the debate is about whether O'Neill chooses to play with Wes Hoolahan and pick Robbie Brady at left-full or play Stephen Ward and the hero of Lille in an advanced position.

"It is definitely a thought. Thoughts about him being left-sided or full-back seeing the game in front of him," said O'Neill.

"Robbie is prepared to play anywhere and confident enough defensively to deal with situations. He had a big, big tournament and wants to try and live up to that."

O'Neill is hoping that a month of football at club level will bring his players on from Serbia in terms of fitness and physical strength.

"This match coming up, the one thing I would draw from is that the likes of Seamus who had very little football for Serbia will be fitter and stronger in the game and that's a plus for us," he said.

O'Neill is aware of rising expectations surrounding his team after France but he has no problem with that.

"I don't mind people having rising expectations. That's what it's all about," he said confidently.

"For me, it's dealing with all of the things and trying to have a realistic outlook about what we are trying to do which is qualify for Russia.

"We have to be as strong as we can in each game, play to our maximum.

"This game is a big test, of course. If anyone watched the Georgia v Austria game, they caused them a lot of problems and could have scored equaliser and indeed could have scored first.

"This is a difficult game. Games are difficult for us. But I've got some really good players by my side which is really comforting."

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