KEVIN KILBANE HOSTILE CARDIFF CROWD WON’T BE A PROBLEM
THE Welsh FA could have easily followed the money and switched tomorrow’s showdown with Ireland from the Cardiff City Stadium to the Principality Stadium.
Over the past last six years, though, the Championship ground has become an intimidating home and Wales have reaped the rewards.
So while a switch to the Principality would see an extra 40,000 supporters – let’s face it, Ireland would easily have sold an additional six or seven thousand tickets too – and ensure the cash rolled in, they have stuck to their guns for the greater good of reaching the World Cup play-offs.
It’s not hard to see why. Chris Coleman wants a tight, intimidating atmosphere. He wants the crowd right on top of the players. He wants to generate that buzz in a more condensed ground. I hope it doesn’t work. Whenever I have seen Wales play in the Cardiff City Stadium, it does seem to create a better atmosphere and it can be more intense and passionate.
But, essentially, most of our players have played there before. So they know what it is all about and I am sure they will not be intimidated by it. I don’t think it will cause a problem.
What is more important is how Ireland play. We need to win and this clash has all the feeling of a cup final and intense local derby. It’s one of those games when a player cannot come off with any regrets.
Ireland go to Wales in good shape after the win on Friday night, which was very comfortable and over as a contest after 20 minutes. We were very good for the first half an hour but once the second goal went in everything changed.
We could, and should, have had more goals but I think overall, the last hour of the game was simply a case of seeing it through unscathed.
It was not a great performance or one you would be inspired by but it was always going to be a comfortable night, especially when that early goal went in.
It was a slightly uncomfortable game to watch at times because Moldova broke too easily, but they were never going to score. There was one excellent save from Darren Randolph but everything was fired at him from 30 yards.
There were plenty of positives for Martin O’Neill as he looks towards his all-important team selection for tomorrow night.
As for Ireland, the second goal was as good as you will see anywhere.
A super ball from Wes Hoolahan to Stephen Ward on the left, a great cross from him and a sublime header by Daryl Murphy. The only drawback was that it kind of killed the game.
The team is bound to be changed from Friday night, with James McClean and Robbie Brady available again after suspension. O’Neill suggested both would come back in and it is hard to argue with that. You would imagine that Hoolahan would drop out. He played well against Moldova but the suggestion is he can’t play two games in a week, although I would love him to start. He is a player who can hold onto the ball and create openings when space is tight but he might be an option to use off the bench. That is something that has been lacking in recent games but we could have in abundance in Cardiff with Daryl Murphy’s two goals, the emergence of Seán Maguire and the competitive debut of Callum O’Dowda. O’Dowda was excellent for the first 25 minutes on Friday and has given the manager some food for thought. It was exactly the performance we would hope for from a good footballer who is quick, good on the ball and balanced.
I still think he will be a straight swap for McClean.
Brady is certain to come back into the side and O’Neill may decide to sacrifice one of the two up front.
Personally I would play Shane Long because of his pace and ability to hurt Wales, but with Murphy scoring two goals against Moldova, how can you leave him out?
Wales dominated the midfield during most of the game at the Aviva and O’Neill might try to nullify that threat.
That was a dull game with no real chances throughout and I expect there to be much more this time and more edginess because of what is at stake.
We’ve all been trying to work out the play-off permutations and mathematics. The funny thing is, after Austria beat Serbia, we go into this game knowing we could still top the group.
We need to win the game anyway and Serbia will still beat Georgia at home, I am sure, but that defeat in Vienna means Wales and Ireland now have a chance of qualifying automatically.
And that might suit Ireland. I think it puts Wales under more pressure, particularly playing at home.
There will be more chances this time but it promises to be edgy and tight.
Hopefully Ireland will have enough to win it.
CRAFT: Wes Hoolahan can be key for Ireland in Cardiff