The Republic of Ireland will attempt to bring a successful conclusion to the first phase of their Euro 2020 qualification campaign when they welcome Gibraltar to Dublin on Monday evening.
Completing a double over the Group D minnows would leave Mick McCarthy’s men with 10 points from a possible 12 and although there are tougher fixtures to come, that would represent a creditable start.
Here, Press Association Sport takes a look at some of the talking points surrounding the game.
Statement of intent
McCarthy took up the reins determined to put Ireland back on the front foot, but progress has been incremental to date. A 1-0 victory in Gibraltar in March was hard-fought in unusual conditions and while they were significantly better in beating Georgia by the same score three days later, their backs were very much against the wall once again as they scrapped their way to a 1-1 draw in Denmark on Friday evening. The manager will be hoping for a more expansive approach and convincing display on Monday to suggest that there is more to come.
There is a perception that central defender Shane Duffy’s aerial presence at set-pieces represents Ireland’s biggest threat, although the statistics do not really bear that out – his goal in Copenhagen was just his third in senior international football. However, it is clear that the Republic cannot rely upon one player or a single method to produce chances and there will be a focus on the squad’s more creative performers – the likes of Robbie Brady, James McClean, Callum O’Dowda, David McGoldrick, Sean Maguire and Callum Robinson – to stake a claim for inclusion when the tougher tests come along.
Changing of the guard?
McCarthy might have been tempted to test the depth of his squad in a game which is likely to prove less taxing than the fixture in Denmark, although injuries may have altered his original intentions. The manager has admitted Ipswich midfielder Alan Judge could have started had he not suffered a wrist fracture at the Telia Parken Stadium, while central defender Kevin Long has been ruled out by a calf strain. Richard Keogh, who played his 64th game of the season in Copenhagen, might benefit from a well-deserved rest, as may 35-year-old midfielder Glenn Whelan and striker McGoldrick with John Egan, O’Dowda, Robinson and Maguire among those eagerly awaiting the nod.
Between a Rock and a hard place
Gibraltar coach Julio Ribas has set his players on a steep learning curve as they attempt to acclimatise to the rigours of international football, their latest lesson coming in a 3-0 defeat by Georgia in the heat of Tbilisi. However, but for Darren Randolph’s fine reaction save to deny Roy Chipolina at the Victoria Stadium, they might have emerged with something to show for their efforts and Ireland can take nothing for granted if they are to get what they want.
The focus on Duffy’s prowess in the opposition penalty area is perhaps understandable given that with Shane Long injured, the current crop of strikers do not have a single senior international goal between them. Given the opposition, there could be no better time for McGoldrick, Maguire, Robinson or Scott Hogan to finally break their duck.