Martin O’Neill could be without Jonathan Walters for Ireland’s vital World Cup qualifier against Wales next month.
The Stoke City forward has not played for his club since requiring knee surgery at the beginning of the year so was always in a race against time, and while he had hoped to recover in time to make the Ireland squad for the match in Dublin, Mark Hughes insists that the 33-year-old needs time to recover.
Speaking to Newstalk’s Off the Ball in the wake of Stoke’s 4-0 drubbing at the hands of Tottenham on Sunday, Hughes discussed Walters’ chances of playing against Wales but seemed pessimistic of that happening:
“He should be back in two to three weeks.
“He’s training but he probably needs a little bit more work on a daily basis.
“He needs a good two weeks at least, or three. Three would be better for him.”
Although Walters would be a loss for O’Neill, Ireland are lucky in the sense that they have sufficient cover for the first time in a long time. He played as the lone striker in the 1-0 win in Vienna in November, but Shane Long’s return means that he would not be needed to plug that particular gap.
In midfield, meanwhile, the manager has a plethora of options to call upon – including the resurgent Aiden McGeady who has hit a rich vein of form for Preston North End in the Championship.
O’Neill will name his squad for the Wales clash (as well as the friendly international against Iceland four days later) in the middle of March, and at this current moment in time, it looks unlikely that Walters will have recovered in time to play a part.
Wales, meanwhile, have been boosted massively by Gareth Bale’s return from injury. The forward made his first start for Real Madrid in over three months against Villarreal, scoring the first goal as Zinedine Zidane’s side came from 2-0 down to win 3-2.