Who will Stephen Kenny pick in his XI to face Slovakia in the Euro 2020 play-off?Thu, Oct 08 2020
Stephen Kenny waited five long months to take charge of his first game as senior Republic of Ireland manager – the five weeks since, by contrast, will have flown by.
Hopes that the Kenny era would find lift-off right away were tempered somewhat by a disappointing pair of results against Bulgaria and Finland.
A 1-1 draw in Sofia, salvaged thanks to Shane Duffy’s injury-time header, and a 1-0 defeat in his first home game against the Finns three days later left many fans deflated.
But while those results were disappointing, and saw Ireland miss out on vital ranking points, they were always a warm-up to the real deal in Bratislava on Thursday.
Kenny handed starts to 14 of his 23 players over the two games, switching up his midfield completely for the Finland game, and will have a better idea of what their capabilities are.
Adam Idah got two games at centre forward, and showed some nice touches, but injury meant David McGoldrick was restricted to just a cameo off the bench late in the Finland game.
Kenny has spoken at length of his admiration for McGoldrick and looks determined to accommodate him in the team, but whether it’s alongside or at the expense of Idah remains to be seen.
In midfield, too, there are decisions to be made, as Jayson Molumby showed some promise on his debut against Finland, though Harry Arter’s injury has narrowed the choices somewhat.
Kenny has been urged from some quarters to adopt the 3-5-2 system played by many in the squad at club level but he is unlikely to deviate much from his preferred 4-3-3-type formation.
So who will he go with for the first major examination of his tenure?
Goalkeeper: Darren Randolph
No contest: 44-times-capped Randolph is the incumbent and played all 180 minutes of Kenny’s tenure to date.
The West Ham goalkeeper hasn’t played a league game this season but, likewise, neither have his competitors: twice-capped Mark Travers and uncapped Caoimhin Kelleher.
It would be difficult to blame either of the goals in the Nations League on him, and he’s shown he has the footwork to play the short game from the back and to go long when needed.
Defence: Matt Doherty, Shane Duffy, John Egan, Enda Stevens
The big debate ahead of the Nations League games was who would win the battle between Seamus Coleman and Matt Doherty for the right-back slot.
Doherty had just completed a move to Tottenham Hotspur, while Coleman was yet to get going for the new season at Everton, and the former seemed very much the coming force.
Doherty was given the nod for both games but struggled to impose himself in his less-practiced right back position.
It’s to Coleman’s credit that he has begun the season at such a clip that he’s reversed the conversation, but his injury makes the argument moot.
Duffy will captain the side again, while Sheffield United duo Egan and Stevens are also shoo-ins for the most settled part of the Irish side.
Midfield: James McCarthy, Jeff Hendrick, David McGoldrick
Two met who probably benefitted more than any from the meek performance against Finland were McCarthy and Hendrick.
Their assured, if slighty one-paced, performance in Bulgaria looked comparatively better following an energetic but erratic display from their replacements three days later.
Conor Hourihane was the third wheel in midfield in Sofia but the return to fitness of McGoldrick might tempt Kenny to employ him in the same role Patrick McEleney played at Dundalk.
McGoldrick was never fully comfortable in the number nine role in which he was employed by Mick McCarthy, as he prefers to wander and get involved in the play.
A free rein to wander behind the front three, link the play and create, while offering a goal threat, could be perfect for the unselfish Sheffield United frontman.
Forwards: Robbie Brady, Adam Idah, Aaron Connolly
Adam Idah had a rough introduction to international football against a Bulgaria side who were happy to sit deep, which nullified the striker’s ability to get the ball on the front foot.
He played much of the game with his back to goal and showed some good touches as he brought those around him into play, but it was against Finland who showed more of a threat in behind.
Idah is still only 19 and hasn’t been starting regularly in the Championship this year, but he is the only natural nine in the squad and Kenny has clearly taken a shine to him over the past two years.
Connolly, himself only 20, was Ireland’s most impressive attacker over the two games and warrants his place in any selection.
Brady comes into the tie with a rib injury but looks set to play some part – a wide-right position might suit him and, with few dead ball specialists in the squad, he may edge out Callum O’Dowda.