Sunday 21 April 2019

'Midfield three is now key for us' says O'Neill

Martin O’Neill
Martin O’Neill

Three is the magic number for Martin O'Neill as he plans to stick with his system for tomorrow's Nations League clash with Wales.

And the Ireland boss says he will consider changes to his team to freshen things up for the game, Callum Robinson in his thoughts after an impressive cameo role as a sub against Denmark.

O'Neill picked a three-man defence to start against the Danes and with James McClean and Matt Doherty beginning the game out wide, that left Cyrus Christie, Callum O'Dowda and Jeff Hendrick in the central roles.

O'Neill admitted that Hendrick was more suited to the defensive midfield role, which he took over from Harry Arter, and some switches are likely but the format is likely to remain in place.

"For us at this minute, we probably need three players in the middle of the field. Outside Cyrus we might not really have the legs to play a 4-4-2. We've seen that before," says O'Neill.

"So we probably need three in the middle. If we can get help from having the two wingbacks close to them, then fine. If they don't get that help, then it can still be a long evening for them.

"The thing about wingbacks is regardless of whether or not they are attacking wingbacks - and I had them at Celtic and Leicester - those gaps that I talked about before - where sometimes the left- or right-side centre half is slightly uncomfortable going out to that position, then they become full-backs for a period.

"What they want is just to hold things up for players to re-adjust their positions. James can do that. I think there are pluses and minuses to it, like everything else," added O'Neill, who praised the efforts of captain Richard Keogh.

"I thought he did fine. Richard has been a good old stalwart here. He has played for me at times and he's missed out on occasions aswell but he's always ready. And he's a talker as well, which is something we need. Whatever you say about big Duffy and Kevin Long, who are really nice lads, essentially the main talker of the back three would be Richard Keogh and that's really important."

O'Dowda, who was replaced at half time as he was "feeling unwell" may drop out of the side but O'Neill may also make a change up front, both Robinson and fellow sub Aiden O'Brien in his thoughts.

"Well, we'll see, we'll have a little look at it. Certainly, Callum, who was on much longer than Aiden, 25 minutes or what ever it was, I thought that he gave us a little bit of life which was nice. He was taking some players on and the crowd took to him," said O'neill, who admitted that James McClean, who made a rapid return to fitness after a wrist injury, was physically shattered after his exertions against Denmark but the boss expects McClean to be available tomorrow.

"James recovers quickly. I would say that he and Cyrus Christie are the fittest lads that we have. James will want to play anyway and I'm sure that he will recover."

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