Belfast Telegraph

O'Neill says it won't be goodnight Vienna for Republic

By Daniel McDonnell

To paraphrase the old Ultravox hit, Vienna means nothing for the Republic of Ireland. No points. No joy. No luck. Bad things happen to visiting Irish teams with six defeats and a draw from seven visits. The most recent defeats, 1995 and 2013, effectively spelled the end for Jack Charlton and Giovanni Trapattoni.

A pair of losses to Austria derailed Charlton's hopes of bringing the Republic to a major tournament in England and hastened his departure. Trapattoni was gone inside 24 hours.

Martin O'Neill is in a healthier position ahead of this evening's showdown in the Ernst Happel Stadium.

Seven points from nine off the back of a respectable Euros means that he has a bit of credit in the bank. This is an important game, but it's the hosts that are in make-or-break territory after a sluggish start to their campaign.

The Republic have a series of home games next year which will allow management to put a positive slant on the overall Group D situation if this encounter goes the way of previous jaunts.

O'Neill touched on it in his pre-match press conference. "Our destiny is in 2017 really," he said. "But this is a very important game, don't get me wrong."

It will shape the mood heading into Christmas, despite everything else that has gone in this calendar year, and the injury problems that have weakened O'Neill's hand offer a ready-made excuse.

Two years have passed since a depleted side lost in Scotland to suffer a bump in the road en route to France and the hope is that O'Neill's group have evolved to the extent where they can put in a more mature performance in the face of adversity.

He insists they will avoid the trap of hanging in there in the hope of securing a point.

"I've said in the past that I don't know how you actually play for a draw," he asserted.

"In all my years, I don't recall any manager, no matter how brilliant or mediocre he was, going to a ground talking about how he was going to plan for one."

The one-line mission is to get a result that will end 2016 on a high. And, to do so, Ireland must return to the levels that made it an enjoyable year.

Specifically, the controlled intensity that allowed them to really compete in three of the four Euros encounters.

O'Neill speaks often about going on the 'front foot' but there were long periods of the games against Serbia and Georgia which harked back to capitulation against Belgium in Bordeaux.

The Republic invited trouble when, at their best, they are capable of creating it. Austria are vulnerable at the back and have leaked of six goals in their opening three qualifiers.

They have dangerous attackers; Stoke's Marko Arnautovic and Red Bull Leipzig's Marcel Sabitzer can offer dynamic support to the veteran Marc Janko. And Ireland's players know the damage David Alaba can do from a deeper role.

That said, the perennial fear is that the Republic of Ireland will be pinned back in their own half because of technical limitations that can sometimes rear their head in this type of encounter.

In that context, O'Neill's personnel choices will be significant. The unavailability of Shane Long and Daryl Murphy has limited his striking options with a strong hint offered that Jon Walters will function as the centre-forward.

James McClean came up trumps in Moldova as support to Walters when Long went off but his build-up has been hindered by a back problem.

"James is improving thankfully," said O'Neill. "He was in great discomfort last weekend. And James is one of those, if he says he is feeling bad, he would definitely be feeling bad."

He is needed, especially if Robbie Brady is switched back to left full-back to deputise for Stephen Ward. Ciaran Clark is the makeshift alternative but that would be a gamble even if the Clark-Shane Duffy partnership did not exactly look like the finished product in Moldova.

John O'Shea and Richard Keogh are waiting in the wings if O'Neill wants to draw on greater experience.

No Republic of Ireland preview would be complete without question marks over the involvement of Wes Hoolahan and the same old doubts linger about whether management view him as a 90-minute option.

Creativity is in short supply otherwise, although a competitive debut for Harry Arter is an intriguing prospect.

"Harry is fit," said O'Neill, "If selected, it would be great if he did well. Over the next two years, you would hope he'd be able to add something to the squad."

Local reports have indicated the 48,000 available seats will be filled - with over 3,000 travelling fans - and it's certain that it will be livelier than Belgrade and Chisinau where local antipathy made for a curious atmosphere.

Therefore, it will be closer to an old-school international.

"These are the nights that you're in the game for," said O'Neill. To succeed, Ireland's approach will have to be about more than just trying to stay in the game

  • Austria v Rep of Ireland, World Cup Qualifying Group D: Ernst Happel Stadium, Tonight, 6.00pm

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph