Belfast Telegraph

Michael O'Neill knows Irish must spring to life in Moldova

By Daniel McDonnell

Martin O'Neill has called on his depleted Irish squad to raise their performance levels for tomorrow's World Cup 2018 qualifier in Moldova by stressing that they cannot afford to be carrying passengers in the must-win encounter.

The group landed in Chisinau without key men Robbie Brady and Jeff Hendrick, and the Irish boss acknowledged that 'he has a few problems' in the midfield department. Hendrick is banned, while Brady did not travel after he picked up a head injury in the sluggish 1-0 win over Georgia on Thursday.

O'Neill admitted that the performance was below par, especially in the first half, and it was an inspired moment from skipper Seamus Coleman that dragged the Republic out of a hole.

The Ulsterman said that his players need to do better and cannot afford to have a few players off the pace.

"I think we need everyone to step up to the mark," he said. "The performance in the first half on Thursday shows we need everybody at it.

"We can't afford to carry anybody.

"The game actually panned out much as I could see it, because if they could get in to any rhythm, which they did do, they started to grow in confidence. We didn't play well enough.

"We turned it around in the second half, started getting second balls and applying more pressure. That was really it. We've relied on Seamus Coleman scoring a goal. It was a tough evening for us. But we've won, that becomes very important."

Harry Arter was not on the plane either - it was always a long shot due to the tight hamstring that forced him to miss Georgia - but O'Neill had to speak to the player ahead of the flight for different reasons.

Inaccurate reports that the Bournemouth midfielder was about to declare for England led to a discussion between the pair.

O'Neill had fielded a series of questions on the subject before he was able to clarify that bogus rumours lay behind the unnecessary distraction.

Veterans Glenn Whelan and Wes Hoolahan are in line to replace Brady and Hendrick unless O'Neill has an ace up his sleeve. Eunan O'Kane David Meyler and the uncapped Stephen Gleeson are alternative options.

  • Moldova v Rep of Ireland, World Cup Group D: Chisinau, Sunday, 7.45pm

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