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Thursday 8 December 2016

Ronnie Whelan: Wes Hoolahan needs to be left on the bench for Scotland game

Shane Long, Republic of Ireland, celebrates with team-mate Wes Hoolahan, right, after scoring against Serbia
Shane Long, Republic of Ireland, celebrates with team-mate Wes Hoolahan, right, after scoring against Serbia

THIS will go against many of the things I've said in the past about Ireland's best team, but I don't think Martin O'Neill should start with Wes Hoolahan against Scotland.

I've always thought that Hoolahan is Ireland's most creative player and that O'Neill should play him whenever he is fit. But for this one, there is a strong case to be made for leaving him on the bench.

My team for Scotland would be the back four that did well against England at the Aviva yesterday, although I still have reservations about Marc Wilson. He needs to make decisions quicker and not dwell on the ball.

My midfield would be Aiden McGeady, Glenn Whelan James McCarthy, James McClean, and up front, Jon Walters with Shane Long.

The basis of my belief that O'Neill should leave Hoolahan on the bench lies in that midfield.

strong

I think Ireland will need to be physically and mentally strong in that area. Certainly, from what I saw in Glasgow back in November, that is a priority.

I agree with Roy Hodgson that it will be a ding-dong, helter-skelter battle and I think Hoolahan might just get swallowed up in the middle of it.

I didn't pay too much attention to the England game as anything else other than a fitness exercise and a way to tune up legs.

It was good from that point of view, and the bonus was that the back four played well to frustrate England in the first 45 minutes.

As substitutions and changes kicked in, it became a bit looser but that first-half performance was reassuring. John O'Shea took a knock, but should be all right and it is vital that he starts.

Wes Hoolahan
Wes Hoolahan

What I said about Wilson earlier can be addressed. It is a bad habit he has picked up and it comes from the fact that he is comfortable on the ball.

Sometimes he thinks he has more time than he actually has and his mind needs to be as quick as he thinks his feet are.

Robbie Brady's conversion to left-back is progressing and I thought he coped well with the defensive side of the game against England.

It helped a great deal that Raheem Sterling couldn't kick the ball out of his way. It's very clear that Sterling is feeling the pressure right now.

There seemed to be quite a few Liverpool fans in the crowd yesterday and they made their feelings known. I suspect that might have been a bit of a surprise for him. He has a big call to make and he is not finding it easy.

All told, it was a very poor game with some slightly better stuff towards the end when both managers made a lot of adjustments and the game opened up.

But neither O'Neill nor Hodgson will care much about that.

This game was about fine tuning for more important days ahead, even if there was always going to be a lot of hype around the match.

reason

On balance, I think the Ireland boss had more reason to be pleased with the day than Hodgson.

England looked toothless and dull.

In fact, the best moment of the day, for me, without doubt, was when Jack Charlton went out on the pitch before the match as a symbol of healing between the two sets of fans.

It was great to see him and very emotional to see the way he was received by both sets of fans.

In a week which has been all about the things that are wrong with the administration of football, it was great to see Jack again and remember good times.

 

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