Pressure is on Ireland for Dublin date claims Scottish star Maloney
THE TABLE shows clearly that Ireland are playing catch-up on Scotland in the race to get to France, and Scottish forward Shaun Maloney admits that the pressure will be on the home side in Dublin when Scotland and Ireland clash in June.
Recent meetings between the two nations in Dublin have been tame, in fact pretty dull affairs - the Euro 88 qualifier here was a scrappy 0-0 draw while the Lansdowne Road stadium was half-empty for the Carling Nations Cup game between the Scots and the Irish in May 2011.
Things have changed a great deal for Ireland since that day in 2011, when a Robbie Keane first half goal gave Ireland the win.
Liam Lawrence, Keith Andrews, Keith Fahey, Stephen Hunt, Kevin Foley and Keith Treacy all played that day but it's almost impossible to think of any of that sextet even winning a senior cap again while others involved that day (Paul McShane, Stephen Kelly, Darren O'Dea, Simon Cox) have struggled to get into the squad of late.
Not much was at stake when we played out that Carling Cup non-drama but so much is on the line when Scotland come here in June.
"It is such a huge game but there are pretty big games after that - we have got Germany and Poland here and Georgia away which is a difficult game," said Maloney, Scotland's hero against Ireland in Glasgow last year.
"Every game from here on in could be labelled definitive but I think the pressure will grow as we get closer to that game.
"The pressure on both sides will be pretty big. They will feel the same pressure that we had at Celtic Park.
"The home support was superb at Celtic Park and that was magnified because we scored and we had that moment as a team. Your home games are big and they'll feel the pressure as we did when we played them," added the former Celtic star, now based in the US.
Suspensions won't kick in for either nations ahead of the June 13th game, but injury and the form of players will be uppermost in the manager's minds.
Maloney will be in action throughout the summer due to his commitments in the USA with Chicago Fire so he should be in good shape by the time of the Dublin game, while former Wigan team-mate James McClean has a six-week gap between his last game for his club and the qualifier against the Scots.
Of the players missing for the Poland game on Sunday, O'Neill hopes to hear good news soon on Jeff Hendrick and Darron Gibson.
Both travelled to Dublin last week - Hendrick to collect his award for Young Player of the Year from the FAI while Gibson was sent back to his club after tests in Dublin picked up a problem, but Gibson could be back in the Everton side to face Southampton at the weekend.
"Darron had a little bit of a stomach strain," says Everton boss Roberto Martinez.
"He made sure that he finished the game (against QPR) but he felt it in the last 10-15 minutes. After the game, when his body cooled, he then felt a real difficulty walking and trying to exercise on it.
"He's been receiving treatment and obviously he met with the Irish party, and now we're going to assess him and see how long it will be before he can join the group again.
"With Gibson and Romelu Lukaku I don't think they are major injuries but they are injuries that need to be well looked after and we'll see if both players are available or not for the Southampton game," added Martinez.
Meanwhile, Ireland's U19 side finish off their Euro qualifying campaign in Germany today knowing they have no chance of progress. Defeats to the Czech Republic (0-1) and Germany (2-3) leaves today's game with the Germans as a dead rubber for Paul Doolin's outfit.