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Saturday 7 December 2019

Boys in green need to hit back of net

Euro 2020 qualifier: Republic of Ireland v Gilbraltar (Live RTE 2 TV,7.45)

Scott Hogan could have the chance to get off the mark for Ireland against Gibraltar tonight
Scott Hogan could have the chance to get off the mark for Ireland against Gibraltar tonight
Mick McCarthy will be satisfied with a 1-0 win tonight

Gibraltar's last trip to Dublin was a bruising affair, a beating so bad that they took off their goalkeeper after an hour, having already conceded seven goals to Martin O'Neill's Ireland team.

And the boys from the Rock have been stuck in a hard place since then. Of the 15 games played since that heavy defeat in Dublin 4, they've lost 14 times but only once have they kept that loss to a one-goal margin: their 1-0 loss to Ireland in Gibraltar three months ago.

So Mick McCarthy is either being incredibly realistic, or very pessimistic, when he says he'd settle for a 1-0 win at home to Julio Ribas' side tonight, the visitors to Dublin ranked as the second-worst national team in Europe, according to the FIFA rankings.

"You have seen us play over the last three games, you know the style of play we play, so that's quite evident.

"How we try to play, play football, and we will try to do that again. But if it ends in a scrappy 1-0 win, off somebody's backside, I am not bothered. I will take the win," he said when speaking at his pre-match press conference.

Different

"There are lots of things I expect to be different from the game on Monday night, and I'd like it to be a better performance than that in Gibraltar. But, ultimately, I would still take the 1-0 win. It would cause me stress if it's only 1-0 in the last minute but so long as we win."

How do you win games? Score goals. Who scores your goals? Your strikers.

Not with Ireland, though. The national team's front players are going through a goal drought which has to be among the worst of our bad spells.

A striker has not found the net in the last seven senior internationals. Just two centre forwards have scored in the last 15 games for the Republic (Graham Burke and Aiden O'Brien). We have gone 10 competitive games without seeing a goal from a forward, not since Daryl Murphy scored twice against Moldova.

The four strikers in the current squad (David McGoldrick, Sean Maguire, Scott Hogan and Callum Robinson) have 25 caps between them but zero goals.

So if ever there was a time when Irish football needed to see the front men front up with goals, it's tonight at home to Gibraltar.

McCarthy admitted as much, saying that while a win would be good, a batch of goals from his shot-shy forwards would be better. After all, he has been there: he was on the pitch for most of that time when John Aldridge went 20 games for Ireland without scoring.

"What's nice about it is we've a humble squad of players, which I think they are, there's not one who (just) has a great desire to score a goal. They want to win the game for everybody," McCarthy says. "But strikers, for all they contribute to the game, they want to score goals. They're a selfish bunch and that's the way they should be because they want to score.

"I always think it's nice to have a collective squad and all they want to do is win the game collectively. They've proven that.

"But, yes, that's a bonus (if a striker scores). Hopefully if they do, I'll be pleased for me, for us and the national team that strikers are scoring goals."

Tonight's game is not really a case of dangerous territory for McCarthy: he has been there, done that and escaped with a clean bill of health from the potentially tricky away game against Gibraltar in March, where a 1-0 win had to be enough.

He came through his first competitive test as Ireland manager first time around when his team beat Liechtenstein 5-0, where ghosts of the Charlton-era 0-0 draw in the same spot hung in the air, only to be blown away by McCarthy's team.

Survived

He survived his first game second time around with that win in Gibraltar, has seen the side earn four points since then, but now is when his side need to deliver, to make a big statement, by playing well and scoring goals.

Maguire, in particular, needs a goal in the green jersey to get him started, so starting the Preston man tonight, or else his club-mate Callum Robinson, makes sense.

Gibraltar were tired when they arrived in Dublin on Saturday, having travelled through the night following a 3-0 loss in Tbilisi.

Anthony Bardon, one of their more experienced players and a man who will quit international football after tonight, is currently without a club.

Their foreign-based players line out for West Didsbury & Chorlton, Ossett United and Hereford.

"It would be lovely walking off and we've had a good result and everyone is happy, the squad has a few goals but we are playing against a team who are coming here desperate to stop us doing that and we have to try and break them down. We will do everything in our powers to break them down," McCarthy says.

All he needs is goals.

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