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Wednesday 7 December 2016

Martin O'Neill: We need to be flexible against the Scots

Republic of Ireland players Shane Long, Harry Arter and Marc Wilson during squad training. Gannon Park, Malahide,
Republic of Ireland players Shane Long, Harry Arter and Marc Wilson during squad training. Gannon Park, Malahide,
Martin O'Neill

ITS down to the nitty-gritty for Martin O'Neill and the shadow boxing and limb loosening exercise he has been involved in for ten days is finished. It's about the details now.

As has been the case since he began this journey, O'Neill has been left to prepare for matches in almost glorious isolation given the publicity profile enjoyed by Roy Keane and in recent week, his employer.

While other managers toil with an intrusive media and the demands of justifying team selection, tactics and results, O'Neill wears a beatific smile and fobs off every question with the ease of a professional. He really was lost to the legal profession. Or any profession.

Right now, his preoccupation is goals, more precisely lack of goalscorers and with that in mind, he is toying with the idea of playing three at the back.

"I don't see why we shouldn't consider that option. Absolutely not and we have done little bits of practice here and there with it. Essentially, in the game against Northern Ireland, we really did have that - Seamus pulling wide on one side and Robbie on the other.

"We have to try and win the game and whatever sort of formation that we use, and I use that advisedly because eventually, its players win games.

"Against England, we played three players in the middle of the field, Aiden McGeady floating really, starting on the left hand side which I think is his favourite position though he can play either.

"I want us to be relatively flexible if I can. And if we practice a wee bit during the week on some sort of formation and at least if we asked to do so during the game, it's not that foreign to us

"Hull City have played three at the back for a length of time so it will be nothing new to the Hull City players if they play in the game," he said.

forced

Noting that Ireland have been forced to chase games of late, O'Neill will be looking for a reversal of that trend against Scotland.

"I think it would be nice to get in front in a game rather than chasing matches as we've be doing just recently. I think we're capable of keeping sides out relatively okay. There's always a chance of conceding a goal in the game as we did against Scotland.

"Our problem is not getting enough goals. I was asked the question yesterday about what you think you can improve on and the very obvious thing is improving on getting chances in the game and taking some of them when they are there.

"It's nice to have natural goalscorers in the team and if we don't possess them, Robbie is coming back, but if we didn't have them, we have to find some other way to win the game."

The message contained in those remarks would suggest that Robbie Keane will be on the bench at the Aviva on Saturday and O'Neill will try to gain control of the game first without the veteran striker leading the line.

Keane's fitness must be an issue given the fact that he played his first full 90 minutes for LA Galaxy since April in 1-0 defeat by the Vancouver Whitecaps on Saturday following a problem with a groin strain.

With some time to digest the England game, he was quick to underline that while the tame draw was a bit of snooze for anyone watching, it allowed fringe men to make a case.

"Obviously I think fitness was very important and of course the players who want to really make an impression, I've told them to use every single minute on that field to try and do so.

"Young Harry Arter came on and got into the game almost immediately which is great because sometimes those games can pass you by for the last 25 minutes.

"It was an opportunity as well too. Daryl Murphy's had a great season with Ipswich and it was a chance for him to start here with Robbie being away."

O'Neill eased back on the workload for his players after the England game and took a reduced group out for a short training spin in Gannon Park.hey have been released to meet up with friends and family until this evening with no curfew.

"I've not been one for cooping people up. I treat these players in, hopefully, an adult fashion and so far, in my time here, they've responded.

"Famous last words of course - there'll be three in prison tomorrow," he said to loud guffaws.

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