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Sunday 25 June 2017

Options for Ireland: Plenty of positives for O’Neill’s side but set pieces remain a chink in the team’s armour

Republic of Ireland’s Harry Arter gets around Uruguay’s Alejandro Silva. REUTERS
Republic of Ireland’s Harry Arter gets around Uruguay’s Alejandro Silva. REUTERS

The last time Ireland played at home to Uruguay in a friendly, the Irish side seemed to inhale a large dose of confidence which would see the team go on a run of eight successive clean sheets and build the foundations which would, ultimately, take the side to a major finals.

It's hard to see Ireland getting to the end of this campaign without conceding another goal but on the back of yesterday's 3-1 win over Uruguay, there is more of a spring in the step of Martin O'Neill's players.

Ireland deserved this victory delivering a display which was a major improvement on last week's poor showing against Mexico.

Underlined

O'Neill played his B team in that friendly with the Mexicans in New Jersey, but his Premier League players underlined yet again yesterday why they need to be in the side.

Positives abounded for the Ireland boss who now has real options for his 11 to face Austria in that World Cup qualifier back here on Lansdowne Road next Sunday.

How to fit Harry Arter, Wes Hoolahan, Jeff Hendrick, Glenn Whelan and Robbie Brady into some sort of midfield formation, whether Daryl Murphy should start, whether to play Jon Walters - Ireland's captain and first goal-scorer yesterday with a gritty display where he shook off the cobwebs - up front on his own or with an attacking foil.

Walters not only got some badly-needed game time but also scored a superb goal, a first-half strike which lifts him into joint seventh place on the all-time list of our international goalscorers, a brilliant return from a player who was 27 when he made his international debut.

James McClean showed his class, and nose for goal, with an impressive appearance off the bench. He appeared better off without the burden of defensive and captaincy duties, which perhaps slowed him down against Mexico.

Harry Arter nipped away in midfield and he's now in real contention to start against Austria on Sunday, a game that will have a big, big say in whether Ireland will be in Russia next year.

Unlike Thursday's lacklustre showing against Mexico, there was a good deal to please O'Neill in the opening stages, Ireland deserving a 28th-minute lead with a superb strike from Walters.

James McClean celebrates his decisive goal. SPORTSFILE
James McClean celebrates his decisive goal. SPORTSFILE

Against Mexico, Ireland saw little of the ball and when they had it, tended to give away possession, but the Irish side had the ball for long spells against Uruguay. But there was, all along, a nagging worry over the threat posed by the opposition from set-plays. Free-kicks were given away too easily, and it was one of those free-kicks which got Uruguay level on 38 minutes.

The Irish back four had done well in front of Darren Randolph but there was that permanent threat from free-kicks and when Carlos Sanchez sent in that high ball, Atletico Madrid man Jose Giminez managed to outfox Randolph in the air. The keeper could have been better-protected but it was still a rash decision to come for the ball.

The game was level at 1-1 when Randolph was replaced by Keiren Westwood yesterday and the Sheffield Wednesday keeper can claim a role in the win, making a superb one-handed save to deny the excellent Giminez.

The jersey belongs to Randolph, for now, after some tough times at club level but some sloppy moments from the West Ham man and some decent play by Westwood gives the Ireland manager food for thought.

That save apart, the second half belonged to the Irish side. Uruguay seeming to tire late on while Ireland only grew stronger with the impetus of the likes of Wes Hoolahan, McClean and Daryl Murphy coming off the bench.

Source

The unlikely source of Cyrus Christie's left foot restored the Irish lead early in the second half, the Derby County man getting the better of Southampton's Martin Caceres to score his second international goal.

Uruguay should have done better to defend that but Ireland's third goal was more pleasing, the move beginning with Wes Hoolahan in his own half, involving a superb pass from Daryl Murphy and then that classy finish from McClean.

Austria's manager didn't travel to Dublin for this game, sending an assistant to spy instead.

He will have seen that chink in the Irish armour from set-plays but this week, he has a lot more to be worried about than Martin O'Neill.

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