CAN Ireland make it two wins from two in March? Mark O’Haire (@MarkOHaire) analyses the best bets on offer for Tuesday night.
Republic Of Ireland v Slovakia | Tuesday 19.45 | Premier Sports
The Republic of Ireland have suffered just two defeats in 18 months (W8-D5-L2) and after recording an impressive 1-0 win over Switzerland on Good Friday, are looking to make it six wins from their last eight outings (W5-D1-L1) against Slovakia.
Martin O’Neill’s men have managed an impressive W6-D3-L0 in Dublin of late and come into this clash on the back of four successive Aviva Stadium successes. Confidence is clearly high in the camp but the Boys in Green are suffering a minor injury crisis in attack this midweek.
With Robbie Keane, Kevin Doyle, Jonathan Walters and Daryl Murphy all ruled out, Shane Long is the only fit and available striker for O’Neill. However, James McClean can convert into a forward with Anthony Pilkington also playing a lead role at club level in recent weeks.
Nevertheless, the Republic concluded their Euro 2016 qualification campaign in a 4-2-3-1 formation, only to opt for a 4-4-2 against the Swiss. With a string of absent forwards in the squad, O’Neill’s likely to return to the latter approach here with Wes Hoolahan expected to play in the hole behind Long.
Ireland have scored in 18 of their last 19 internationals at the Aviva Stadium, including all five friendlies in Dublin during O’Neill’s reign, and although there should still be enough talent in the squad to penetrate Slovakia, I wouldn’t be jumping to get a home triumph onside at the quotes.
ROI are of course famed for their pragmatic approach and although the hosts have a strong recent history – bar Good Friday – for high-scoring non-competitive matches as hosts, this fixture could well fall below the standard 2.5 goals line.
The Boyes In Green conceded just seven goals on their way to Euro 2016 qualification – only two arriving in Dublin – and O’Neill’s team have now kept four consecutive clean sheets in front of their own fans – conceding a mere three in their last 10 in total.
There’s a suggestion that Slovakia may rest star man and vice-captain Marek Hamsik and although Jan Kozak’s side make the journey having W4-D0-L1 in their last five road trips, the Repre perform at their best when able to sit deep in their own 4-2-3-1 formation and play on the counter.
Without Hamsik, Slovakia lose their key playmaking influence and although box-to-box midfielder Juraj Kucka promises plenty, there’s not enough nous when in possession to open up solid and sturdy defences. Kozak’s visitors are at their most effective without the ball.
A fine example was Good Friday’s goalless draw with Latvia in Trnava. Whilst extending Slovakia’s unbeaten streak to four (W3-D1-L0), the guests failed to carve out enough goalscoring opportunities despite monopolising territory and ball and that could be an issue again here.
The Repre began their own qualifying campaign with a perfect W6-D0-L0 record, beating Spain along the way, but four points from their final four fixtures brought many questions. The side still lacks a natural goalscorer and along with Hamsik, relies on a defensive structure that’s also raised concerns in recent months.
Skipper Martin Skrtel and Roma centre-back Norbert Gyomber have had plenty of injury problems this term. Skrtel’s usual partner Jan Durica and right-back Peter Pekarík aren’t first-choice at their clubs and dogged defensive midfielder Viktor Pecovsky is often overworked.
Slovakia beat Switzerland and Iceland in November – the latter with a much-changed XI – and clearly have talent and a team ethic worthy of our attention but should Hamsik be left out, I’m just not convinced they boast the tools capable of clinching victory.
With defences possibly on top, backing Under 1.5 Goals looks a worthy considering at 7/4 (888), having proven profitable in four of the past six in Dublin and four of Slovakia’s last seven friendlies. And yes, I can’t resist the patriotic punt of Ireland to win 1-0 at 23/4 with 888 for the fourth date in five at the Aviva.
Republic of Ireland v Slovakia – Under 1.5 Goals (7/4 888)
Republic of Ireland v Slovakia – Republic of Ireland to win 1-0 (23/4 888)
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