Ireland did the necessary against Moldova on Friday night to set up a winner-takes-all clash with Wales on Monday.
Two first half goals from Daryl Murphy were enough to seal the win, though the performance at times wasn’t particularly strong and some players should be pretty nervous about their role in the starting lineup.
Still, Ireland got the win they needed, and with Robbie Brady and James McClean on the way back after suspension, manager Martin O’Neill is in a position to shuffle his pack ahead of the Cardiff fixture.
Here’s the starting lineup that we thing O’Neill should opt for.
Darren Randolph. Made a fantastic save in the first half against Moldova to keep the clean sheet intact. Randolph has given O’Neill no reason to change goalkeepers, so one is highly unlikely to happen.
Cyrus Christie. Looked pretty threatening with his runs on Friday night, and the fact that he is Ireland’s only specialist right-back in the squad pretty much guarantees his selection anyway.
Shane Duffy. Has gradually become the best defensive option Ireland have, not to mention his attacking threat at set pieces. O’Neill took a bit of a risk playing Duffy against Moldova considering he is one yellow card away from suspension, but the Brighton man came through it and can now concentrate fully on the Welsh.
Ciaran Clark. He’ll have tougher tests than the one posed to him by Moldova, but there is little to suggest that O’Neill is considering a change in central defence. Nor should he, as Clark has generally looked comfortable for almost the entire campaign.
Stephen Ward. Had one of his better games on Friday and will hopefully take that confidence to Cardiff. He looked more threatening in attack than he had for some time, though as with most of the defensive unit, Moldova were never going to test his ability at the back.
David Meyler. Made captain for the night by O’Neill and rose to the occasion. There is simply no excuse now for leaving Meyler out of this team, he has earned his place on merit and should start at the base of a midfield three against Wales.
Harry Arter. Jeff Hendrick has surely now played his way out of the Ireland starting lineup. The Burnley man has looked off-form for the national side for over a year now and surely a change is in order. To that end, Arter, following his cameo appearance from the bench on Friday, has to be considered for a start in what could be a very midfield-oriented game.
Callum O’Dowda. With Wes Hoolahan almost certain to be left out of the starting lineup, O’Dowda’s energy and creativity could be badly needed in Cardiff. The Bristol City youngster finally made his first competitive start in and Ireland shirt on Friday and never let the occasion get to him. He deserves another crack at the whip.
James McClean. Divides opinion slightly and can sometimes let his temper and passion get the better of him, but when he is on form and in a match like the one on Monday, McClean is capable of turning in a game-changing performance.
Robbie Brady. Like Hendrick, Brady is yet to fully recapture the form he showed at Euro 2016, but he is always looks threatening and likely to create something. His set pieces have also been off-colour lately but if he cant get those right, and with Duffy and/or Murphy on the end of them, it could pay huge dividends.
Daryl Murphy. Shane Long has scored one goal in his last 42 games for club and country. It took Daryl Murphy just 19 minutes against Moldova to better that. Granted, the Nottingham Forest striker is hardly the most prolific of strikers himself, but if it comes down to the two, then Murphy must get the nod.
In this week’s edition of the Mixer Football Podcast we discuss the timing of Martin O’Neill’s new contract, look at a massive weekend for the Ireland national side as well as the usual analysis of the latest League of Ireland action.