JOHN O'SHEA admits that Ireland's players are fearing the axe from Giovanni Trapattoni ahead of Thursday's Euro 2012 clash with Spain.
Ireland's 14-game unbeaten run was brought to a crashing halt in Sunday's 3-1 defeat to Croatia and while Trapattoni has already stated that he won't make widespread changes to his team for the Spain game, he is likely to make at least one switch.
Jonathan Walters is in line for a start, probably in place of Kevin Doyle, but Trap admitted that other players underperformed against the Croatians and could suffer, and O'Shea says that the starting XI from Sunday's game face a nervous few days.
“The manager could easily make changes now, after a defeat like that the manager always has reasons to make changes and we'll see what he does,” O'Shea told the Evening Herald.
“I don't think anyone can just take their place in the team for granted and if he makes changes, we'll just have to go along with it.
“We know what we have to do now against Spain. We want to stay in this tournament, we have worked so hard to get here, so much effort went into qualifying for this tournament and in all the previous campaigns where we didn't qualify, we don't want to let this chance slip from our grasp,” added O'Shea.
Ireland's players had a full training session in Gdynia this morning and all 23 took part as Richard Dunne(foot blisters) and Darron Gibson(thigh strain) shook off injury concerns.
With only a light training session yesterday, there's been plenty of time to reflect for the Irish squad and O'Shea, one of the longest-serving players in the panel, is well aware of the implications – should Ireland lose to the Spanish on Thursday, his first chance to play in a major tournament with his country will effectively be over in the space of five days.
“Sunday was very disappointing, for us and for the fans. We didn't look like a team that had been unbeaten in 14 games. At certain times we were stretched and it's something we have to improve on because we have a much bigger test coming now on Thursday against Spain,” O'Shea said.
“In one way it could be a positive for us as we have our minds made up now on what we have to do to stay in the tournament and it should be clear-cut for us.
“We have worked so hard to get here. So much effort went into qualifying for this tournament and in all the previous campaigns where we didn't qualify, we don't want to let this chance slip from our grasp.
“We know what we have to do. We will study Spain now in the next day or two and we'll assess the Spain-Italy game from Sunday,” added O'Shea as he prepares to face his old Manchester United team-mate and friend, Gerard Pique.
“Italy were leading for a good spell in that game and Spain had to come back to draw 1-1, so if we can cause them some problems we can do okay.
“Overall we were beaten by the better side, we didn't help ourselves with the goals but they did deserve to win it. It's just so annoying that we'd got ourselves back into the game at 1-1 but then threw it away at a crucial time.”
Those goals were hard to watch for anyone in possession of an Irish passport, and, for the defenders, who know they handed soft goal-scoring opportunities to the Croatians, it's certainly not pleasant viewing.
Especially the opening goal for Croatia, where Mario Mandzukic somehow managed to beat Shay Given and the Irish defence with an off-balance header that should have never been near the back of Given's net.
“We had a sloppy start with the goal we gave away. It was a fortunate goal from their point of view but a bad one for us defensively. We only half-cleared it, I think their player even slipped slightly when he went to head it in so it was terrible to see it sneak in at the far corner,” added O'Shea.
“We got ourselves back into the game with Sean's (St Ledger) goal. We looked quite comfortable at that stage, there wasn't much between the two teams, but conceding that second goal just before half-time was the killer.
“We were 2-1 down at half-time but we still had a chance if we were able to keep it tight, but we were sloppy again and let in another goal. Realistically, you don't come from 3-1 down against a team like Croatia as they just keep the ball so well and use it wisely.
“We had some chances late on, Keith Andrews had a few attempts, Jonathan Walters and Shane Long caused them problems and we can take some positives from that, but overall it was very disappointing.
“It was a real kick in the teeth for us. There were a few question marks over the goal in terms of how it came about. There were signs of a foul on Stephen Ward and we felt we should have had a penalty too, but things didn't go our way.
“The referee may have been a bit blind to what happened but you had the extra officials behind the goal and they didn't help us out.”