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Martin O'Neill sets Republic of Ireland points target to reach Russia

By Aiden Fitzmaurice

Martin O'Neill is confident that a return of 12 more points from the Republic of Ireland's last six games in the World Cup qualifying campaign will be enough to reach Russia 2018.

But the Republic manager admits that the lack of a natural goalscorer at his disposal is a concern and he's already wondering how to "find a way" to win the next qualifier, a key date at home to Wales in March.

The start of the World Cup campaign has been enjoyable for O'Neill, his side top of the Group D table with 10 points from four games.

Four of the next five qualifiers are at home (against Wales, Austria, Serbia and Moldova, with a trip to Georgia in the middle) before they finish off with a visit to Cardiff.

"Any side who finishes in front of Serbia will go close to winning the group. What do we need to win the group? More points, I'd say 22 points," said Ulsterman O'Neill.

"We mentioned 22 points. You also mentioned Gareth Bale and the number of players Wales have playing in the Premier League - they're capable of going away from home and winning. I can't look any further than that game coming up.

"We've got 10 points. But I always felt our destiny was in 2017 with the home games. But you can only target the first game and think about that. And if we can get a result there, we start to narrow the games."

Only two of the seven goals scored by the Republic in the campaign to date have come from a striker and, as they are in a qualifying campaign without Robbie Keane in the squad for the first time since 1998, the source of goals is a worry.

"You look at how someone like Bale, a talisman for Wales, personally can change a game, can dribble past players; Robbie at his very best would have been that type of player," said O'Neill. "I'm not saying in terms of dribbling, but scoring goals at an important stage of the game. You were always feeling you were never out of it if Robbie was still there and there was a possibility of grabbing something.

"We're not doing too badly (but) you'd still love to have a natural goalscorer in your team, the one who could turn a game, the one that you feel if the ball does drop in the penalty area, he would be there or thereabouts.

"And we have a chance if that's the case. I'm not sure we have that in our team. That's not a criticism of the side, we have to try and find it from other avenues. We can draw a great deal of consolation that goals are coming from other areas.

"Shane Long scored the most wonderful goal against Germany that you'd ever imagine and got us three invaluable points that eventually set us on the road to the Euros. The night against Bosnia, the night we qualified, was great; the night against Italy. So we had some great nights.

"Somewhere along the way, we have to find a way, if we don't have a natural goalscorer, we have to find a way to win a game - the next match being against Wales in March time. And so far we've been up to the task but 2017 is a big year ahead of us."

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