Ireland will hope to follow-up on their narrow 1-0 win over Georgia on Thursday night by picking up another three points in Moldova, but fans will be hoping for a much better display from the Boys in Green in Chisinau
Martin O’Neill’s side came good in the end to pick up their first win of the World Cup qualifying campaign three days ago, but it was a well below-par performance from the Boys in Green and they must up their game against the better sides to stand a chance of reaching Russia 2018.
Ireland will be missing two key players in Jeff Hendrick (suspension) and Robbie Brady (concussion) for the match but luckily for the Boys in Green, the opponents are Moldova who are not expected to cause Ireland any problems tonight.
It is the first ever meeting between Ireland and Moldova and although O’Neill’s team selection came under much criticism on Thursday night, whatever team he decides on for this game should be good enough to see of the world’s 161st ranked side.
O’Neill could completely overhaul his team by drafting in a completely new starting XI and still beat the minnows, but apart from the obvious changes with Brady and Hendrick ruled out, I think we will see a few more changes from the Ireland boss.
With Hendrick suspended for the game, his likely replacement is Stoke midfielder Glenn Whelan but I think we could see a whole new midfield partnership from the one that started against Georgia.
James McCarthy played the full 90 minutes on Thursday night in his first game since a groin injury he picked up while playing for Everton in August so he may not be at 100%. If O’Neill decides to rest the 25-year-old, David Meyler of Hull is the likely man to replace him.
Harry Arter is not expected to feature despite travelling with the side to Moldova so we could see a change of tactic from the Northern Irishman to included Wes Hoolahan in the number ten role in front of a Meyler-Whelan central midfield.
O’Neill’s central defensive partnership of Shane Duffy and Ciaran Clark against Georgia came under scrutiny before the game and despite keeping a clean sheet, there were a few shaky moments for the new central defensive pairing.
Moldova are not expected to make a real threat of Ireland’s defence tonight so O’Neill could stick with Duffy and Clark, but John O’Shea and Richard Keogh will be hoping to see their name on the team sheet tonight.
I think he should be a change by bringing in Keogh to play alongside Duffy, whose height will also be advantage at Irish set-pieces. O’Shea did come on as a substitute late on against Georgia but I think the Sunderland defender’s best days are behind him.
Southampton’s Shane Long did not enjoy the best of displays in the win over Georgia which could give the chance for Aberdeen striker Adam Rooney to make his first appearance for his country.
The 28-year-old scored 20 goals for the Scottish Premiership outfit last season but while I think Long will be in the starting XI tonight, I think we could see an appearance from Rooney and fellow new boy Callum O’Dowda, who enjoyed a great spell at Oxford last season.
Elsewhere, Jonathan Walters and James McClean will be expected to retain their places on the wings, while Darren Randolph, Stephen Ward and captain Seamus Coleman will also be expected to keep their place in the starting XI.
With tougher tests to come in the shape of Austria and Wales standing in Ireland’s way on the road to the World Cup in Russia, Ireland will need to step up their game if they want to qualify for a first World Cup since 2002.
Ireland were lucky to rescue a point against Serbia in their opening game in September and also played poorly for the opening 45 minutes in the Aviva Stadium on Thursday night.
The first half against Georgia was one of the worst displays from an Irish side that I saw in a long time and it is frustrating to see Ireland continuing to play with this outdated long-ball system.
We did see more energy and determination from Ireland in the second half against Georgia which just got the job done to pick up all three points but in reality, Ireland should have beaten Georgia by more than a single goal.
Moldova should not be out playing Ireland on the ball like Georgia did three days ago but I want to see more attempts from Ireland to pass the ball around like they did at Euro 2016 against Sweden and Italy.
I do hope we see this Ireland tonight but even if it is another appalling long-ball Ireland side in Chisinau, the Boys in Green should still be beating Moldova comfortably, who suffered a 4-0 defeat to Serbia on Thursday night.
Ireland should also be thrashing Moldova by at least three goals to make it back-to-back wins and bag it seven points from nine but if they continue to play like they do, then we can kiss hopes of qualifying for the World Cup goodbye.
Prediction: Ireland 3-0 Moldova