Like the unwelcome ingredient in a sandwich, Ireland’s defeat in scorching heat Armenia was the low point of a long weekend that saw the Under-21s deliver when it mattered on both sides. else from the reverse side of Yerevan.
While Stephen Kenny’s side worked hard to break through a resolute defense in their UEFA Nations League opener on Saturday, Jim Crawford’s U21 side took a big step towards historic qualification for the European Championship with back-to-back wins over Bosnia-Montenegro on Friday and Monday. .
A number of U21s caught the eye, but chief among them was Southampton midfielder Will Smallbone, who scored twice against the Bosnians before firing in a superb strike to clinch the 3-0 victory of Ireland over the Montenegrins.
#IRLU21 1-0 Montenegro – Will Smallbone scores an absolute scream to put Ireland ahead.
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Speaking on the RTÉ Football Podcastformer Dundalk goalkeeper Gary Rogers advised the 22-year-old to step up to the Irish senior team and provide technical qualities that weren’t apparent in Yerevan.
“In a game like Armenia, we probably don’t get the most out of (Chiedozie) Ogbene because he’s more of a counter-attacking style of player,” Rogers said, adding that Ogbene was ” the only positive” for Ireland on Saturday.
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“But you need a real technical number 10 to pick the lock and move that ball fast.
“You have to move it with pace and move them because when you have teams sitting down you have to ask questions and drill holes in that defense and move it quickly and to the other side.
“The likes of (Jamie) McGrath, Connor Ronan and Jack (Byrne) too (can do it). But I think the likes of Smallbone, who’s been great for 21 years, he could be a solution.”
As an attacking midfielder, McGrath had provided a valuable link between Kenny’s favorite midfield duo and forwards in successful autumn games, before being left out of more recent squads.
Connor Ronan and Jack Byrne also have the attributes to fulfill this role of playmaker or liaison man much like Smallbone does for the U21s.
“This kind of player is what is needed”
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“You wouldn’t bring in Ronan and McGrath now because they’re on vacation, but Smallbone played really well for 21 years in both games and stood out,” Rogers continued.
“I know Jim Crawford won’t like to hear that and will want him for (the U21s trip to) Italy and they have a great chance of qualifying, but that kind of player is what is needed, especially against Italy. Armenia.
“Ukraine is a different story and I think that will suit Ireland better because they will go out and play a bit more and you would think that (Callum) Robinson and Ogbene could use their pace with the fact that it will be a much more open game of football.”
If Ireland keep the same system since the last games against Ukraine, it will probably be a 3-4-3, with Josh Cullen and Jeff Hendrick in midfield.
Former St Patrick’s Athletic manager Johnny McDonnell told the podcast that if it was a two-man engine room, a 4-2-3-1 with a focal point in attack would be best.
But he also looked at the established starting roles of some players who have struggled for playing time at club level while others have been absent amid similar criteria when it comes to minutes.
“I’m only talking about Jamie McGrath and stuff – Jeff Hendrick didn’t play for QPR,” he said.
“Jamie McGrath didn’t play for Wigan, but neither did Jeff Hendrick. So why was Jeff involved and why wasn’t Jamie involved (in the team)?
“Two different types of players for this type of match. But I was just wondering why Jeff was involved and not Jamie.”
He added that you have to feel that every position in the starting lineup is up for grabs.
“Does anyone really have a guaranteed spot? If guys come into the team and leave, ‘I’m definitely playing’. I think that’s probably a bad mindset to come into a side with “, did he declare.
“I would start from the fact that there are more than 20 players and that all the places are up for grabs and whoever does the best (is chosen).
“If you have that mindset rather than the ‘I’m nailed’ mindset, there’s a little 2-3% drop on a guy when he knows he might be in (the crew).
“So without naming guys and saying ‘He should definitely play’, who should play after being beaten by Armenia? Who?”
Follow Republic of Ireland v Ukraine (Wednesday, 7.45pm) via our live blog at rte.ie/sport or on the RTÉ News app. Watch live coverage on RTÉ2 and RTÉ Player from 7pm, with live radio coverage on Game On from 2fm, from 6pm.
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