The countdown is well and truly on for the hugely anticipated clash at the Aviva Stadium next Friday, as Wales visit Dublin to try and close the gap on the Republic of Ireland in the race for Russia 2018.
This weekend has not gone to plan for Martin O’Neill, with Wes Hoolahan limping off yesterday in Norwich’s win over Barnsley and now has joined the likes of Bournemouth’s Harry Arter and James McCarthy of Everton as major doubts for the Group D match.
Newcastle United’s Ciaran Clark is also on the doubtful list having missed yesterday’s draw at Birmingham with his international centre-back partner, Shane Duffy already ruled out having broken his metatarsal.
Robbie Brady’s suspension could hardly come at a worse time for O’Neill with the boss praying Shane Long arrives at the camp without a knock.
We take a look at how Ireland might be forced to line up given the injury news to date.
Goalkeeper: Darren Randolph is continuing to get regular playing time under Slaven Bilic at West Ham United and is now deemed first choice at the London Stadium, although he shipped three goals to Leicester this weekend, he will be sure to face Bale and Co. on Friday.
Defenders: Seamus Coleman and Stephen Ward both played on Saturday but had little to do. With Brady suspended, Ward will come in. As captain and Ireland’s best player, Seamus Coleman will be the first name on the team sheet.
The centre back pairing will give O’Neill some food for thought with the Clark and Duffy duo, who started last time out in Austria, not available to O’Neill.
John O’Shea was persuaded by Martin O’Neill to stay on with the squad for this campaign when it looked like he would follow Shay Given and Robbie Keane into international retirement. This week the 35-year-old will be a key man and injuries mean he will more than likely start in the Aviva.
The manager is likely to revert to the John O’Shea/Richard Keogh pairing that started the opening qualifier away in Serbia. Alex Pearce of Derby County played alongside Keogh in the Rams’ 2-2 draw with rivals Nottingham Forest yesterday and will be the likely back-up to both O’Shea and Keogh with Paul McShane also carrying an injury.
Both John Egan and Andy Boyle are more likely to feature against Iceland.
Midfielders/Forwards: The midfield is starting to give O’Neill some headaches with James McCarthy, Harry Arter and now Wes Hoolahan rated doubtful. Therefore, he may opt for a 4-4-2, rather than the 4-5-1 formation seen at times.
Burnley’s Jeff Henrick has stepped up a level since his move to the Premier League and will be a key man alongside David Meyler, should Arter or McCarthy not recover in time.
Conor Hourihane and Glenn Whelan could also be in with a shout of starting but Meyler should get the nod above both players after impressing when called upon in Austria.
Hull suffered a bad defeat at Everton but in a positive boost to O’Neill, Meyler spent the afternoon on the bench and should be fresh on Friday.
West Brom’s James McClean is continuing to improve under Tony Pulis and is having an excellent season. Saturday’s 3-1 winner over Arsenal will have further boosted his confidence. With the loss of Robbie Brady and the expected withdrawal of Wes Hoolahan, McClean must be a certainty to start.
Aiden McGeady has been a firm favourite of Martin O’Neill ever since their time at Celtic and given the loss of Brady and possibly Hoolahan, added with McGeady picking up the Championship Player of the Month award for February with Preston, O’Neill must be seriously considering recalling the 86 times capped player.
McGeady also found the net in yesterday’s draw with Blackburn and like McClean, both are on fire at the moment. While O’Neill might see McGeady as more of an impact sub, the loss of the creative influence of both Hoolahan and Brady could tempt O’Neill into handing the 30-year-old a starting place.
The loss of Wes Hoolahan, if indeed the Norwich man fails to recover in time, could be O’Neill’s biggest problem. Stoke’s Jonathan Walters, who scored against the champions elect, Chelsea on Saturday, could slot in behind Shane Long, who more than likely will start up top, with the Stoke man’s presence likely to help Long against the physical Welsh defence.
Preston’s new signing and former Dundalk man, Daryl Horgan might be unlucky to miss out on the starting eleven given the injuries, but could play a key role from the bench.
Possible Republic of Ireland starting XI to face Wales:
Randolph, Coleman (capt), Keogh, O’Shea, Ward, Meyler, Hendrick, McClean, McGeady, Walters, Long.
Damien McEvoy, Pundit Arena