A 1-1 draw against Austria has ensured that the Republic of Ireland are only separated from Serbia in the top spot in their World Cup Qualification group by goal difference.
Jonathan Walters snatched a late equaliser which could not deflect from an uninspiring tactical approach, although to the side’s credit, they battled until the end to bring home what could be a vital point if Martin O’Neill’s side are to be spending the summer of 2018 in Russia.
The lack of a high-level striker since the demise and then retirement of Robbie Keane will be one of O’Neill’s toughest problems to crack going forward. Walters filled the role against Austria, and ultimately scored, but the Stoke player is more accustomed to deployment in a wider position. From deeper on the wing, Walters can hassle and harry defenders on his way to popping up in the box at the perfect moment, but as a spearhead of the attack, he lacks the requisite pace or height to give defensive lines too many headaches.
Ireland have managed eight goals in their six qualifying matches so far, and are certainly well-placed to keep their qualification hopes high until the very end of the campaign. O’Neill’s side head to Georgia in September knowing that three points will be expected against one of the group’s weaker sides. In terms of football betting, Ireland can be currently found at odds of 17/20 with 888sport to prevail in Georgia, and it would be a dream for O’Neill if his side can triumph whilst also racking up a few goals.
A younger Daryl Murphy would have made the ideal candidate to regularly lead the line if the direct tactics are to endure. Murphy thrived under the tutelage of former Ireland manager Mick McCarthy at Ipswich Town, and the big striker was the focal point of the side. Although most will quickly point to his 27-goal haul that propelled Town to the Championship playoffs as an anomalous season, in reality, Murphy’s level of performance was equally high in the season’s either side, where his goal tally was comparatively depleted.
Murphy provides a physical and aerial threat to worry defenders, but also has surprising pace for a big man and a deft touch that made him one of the more complete Championship strikers. Unfortunately, this domestic form has never really made the transition into the international game, with one paltry goal to show for in 26 appearances. And with Murphy now aged 34 and expecting to leave Newcastle to drop back down to the Championship, he is undeniably not the long-term solution for Ireland.
But the veteran does not have to be the long-term solution. Russia 2018 will likely mark Murphy’s retirement from international football, and his fitness is not yet in question. His goal record is slightly tarnished by appearances made before his late-career resurgence at Ipswich, where the striker has moved far beyond the figure of derision that he sometimes became at Celtic and Sunderland. Even when Murphy does not score, his selfless running and physical presence can open up space for others.
With David McGoldrick supremely talented but injury-prone and not prolific, Kevin Doyle far past his best and Shane Long unable to hold down regular domestic football, Murphy will be hoping to find a new club which makes him the focal point of play to press home his claims to lead the line in the World Cup. Of course, Ireland still have to get there first by keeping up their good form.
Photo Source: FAIreland via Facebook.