Jeff boost after rankings slump
Concern for O'Neill as team drop to 34th place
Jeff Hendrick will give Martin O'Neill a badly-needed dose of good news this weekend as he hopes to work his way back into the Burnley side following injury.
But there was a more gloomy update for the Ireland boss ahead of a possible World Cup play-off in November, as the Republic dropping five places in the FIFA world rankings could harm Irish chances of being seeded in those play-offs, should Ireland qualify of course.
Hendrick (25) has had a tough season to date, playing in just two of Burnley's five league games to date, though boss Sean Dyche is confident that the player can keep up his good work on rehab and possibly feature against Liverpool tomorrow, the Clarets boss opting to leave Hendrick out of his squad for last week's win over Crystal Palace.
"Jeff has got a real good chance this week, so by not risking him last week we've given him a much stronger chance this week," said Dyche.
"He trained with us today (Thursday) but it's just to make sure he comes through."
With his midfield options limited for the home date with Moldova, O'Neill will be pleased to see Hendrick back in action.
Robbie Brady and James McClean are suspended for the home game against Moldova while Glenn Whelan may struggle to get game time at club level after being dropped for the first time this season in midweek by Aston Villa boss Steve Bruce.
Before that Georgia/Serbia double header, Hendrick had started in every game in the group, apart from the 3-1 win in Moldova where he was suspended, and his absence was felt in the squad which struggled in the last two games.
The form of David Meyler with Hull City and Eunan O'Kane in a high-flying Leeds United side, as well as back-to-back starts in the Bristol City side for Callum O'Dowda gives O'Neill food for thought but with James McCarthy showing no signs of recovery - he was not even in the match-day squad for Everton's Europa League tie last night - O'Neill needs a fit Hendrick to fill in for the next challenge, at home to a Moldovan side ranked sixth-worst in Europe, behind Andorra and the Faroe Islands.
Those poor results - one point from two games - this month led to a five-point drop for the Republic in the FIFA rankings, O'Neill's side now down to 34th, while Northern Ireland are in the top 20 for the first time in their history. Wales, who face Ireland in Cardiff next month in the final group game, are up to 13th place. It was confirmed earlier this month that FIFA will make the draw for the World Cup play-offs on Tuesday October 17th, but seedings will be based on the next batch of world rankings, issued 24 hours before the play-off draw.
Of the teams likely to finish second in their groups, only Montenegro (37th) and Bosnia (36th) are lower than Ireland in the FIFA ranking system.
Ireland face Wales in Cardiff on Monday October 9th, knowing they need two wins to finish second in the table but even a runner-up spot may not be enough to grant the Republic a place in the play-offs as the second-placed side with the worst record in the nine groups misses out.
Ireland need to beat Wales, and will also require Bosnia to drop points, to avoid finishing as the worst-performing of the nine group runners up and then missing out on the play-offs.