Remember that phrase ‘a week is a long time in football’? Well, eleven months is quite something, too.
This time last year, Mick McCarthy was taking into Ireland qualifying for the Euros. The squad looked considerably different, the outlook was narrow and these games mattered a surreal amount.
Fast forward to now – the world is totally changed and Stephen Kenny leads this unit to Bratislava for a game that is almost more about an improvement on recent showings than it is about anything else.
He won’t see it like that, though – even if it is the mood of the public. The Euros had already depreciated in value and the likelihood of there not being fans able to attend means it’s just another television experience.
With the World Cup now seeming like the long-term aim and this just being a stepping stone in the public eye, the intensity is off.
I’m not sure that will be Stephen Kenny’s view, though – as a win here sets up a very winnable tie in either Sarajevo or Belfast and hands the Republic tournament experience that they could really benefit from.
Here’s the three best bets ahead of this intriguing tie in Slovakia.
Thursday October 8, 7.45pm
Sky Sports Football/ RTE 2
He may not start in Slovakia because Kenny sees the benefit in giving younger players game time in compromising positions, but David McGoldrick is still the most likely goal source if he even makes an appearance in Slovakia.
That goal at the weekend against Arsenal certainly won’t do him any harm either.
With Aaron Connolly and, presumably, Callum Robinson flanking him, it does offer a chance for full backs to be the primary crossers of the ball given how narrow both of those players play at club level.
Matt Doherty and Enda Stevens have considerably better delivery than their more attacking counterparts, and this should benefit McGoldrick whose aerial prowess needs no introduction.
There’s no doubt in my mind that whatever Ireland team is being rolled out, that they’re going to be sluggish. This shape, flow of play and personnel is still coming together and while it’s sure to benefit long-term, the early stages of this aren’t pretty.
A lot of that is down to asking defenders to do a lot, and given Kenny will want the lion’s share of possession again, you can almost see it coming. Again, this isn’t a complaint and it will be the betterment of Irish football on the whole in time – but as of right now, we’re probably going to pay the price for creativity and Slovakia could well score first.
The Draw might be a cop-out, but this is the Ireland way. A win in 90 minutes here would suggest that Kenny’s man-management has trumped whatever slow start they’ve made on the pitch and that would be huge given how much credence the average Irish football fan seems to put behind having a dominant figure atop the tree.
But in reality, there’s enough goal threat in this Slovakia team to cause Ireland problems, on top of the ones they’ll cause themselves, so I just can’t side with a win for either team in the 90 minutes given both their peak performance level at present and their bottom run showings are of eerily similar levels. I’m expecting this one to go the distance.
Slovakia v Ireland betting tips
- All odds are correct at the time of first publishing but are liable to change. However, all prices are bang up to date on our snazzy widgets
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