Martin O’Neill criticised for not starting Norwich City star Wes Hoolahan in World Cup qualifying draw with Austria
- Credit: PA
Republic of Ireland manager Martin O’Neill has been criticised for not starting Wes Hoolahan in his team’s latest World Cup qualifier, which finished in a 1-1 draw with Austria in Dublin.
Thanks to Wales holding Serbia to a 1-1 draw in Belgrade, it didn’t prove too damaging and leaves the Irish second but level on points with the Group D leaders.
However, plenty of fans and pundits were frustrated to see Canaries playmaker Hoolahan only involved as a 71st-minute substitute.
“I’m weary with this debate about Wes Hoolahan and annoyed that Martin O’Neill cannot see what is obvious to me and many others,” former Leeds and Ireland midfielder John Giles told Irish newspaper the Herald.
“How much evidence does he need to see that Hoolahan is the best thing Ireland has and without him, the team is very, very ordinary?
“This was two points dropped and it could have been an awful lot worse if Austria were half a team and had the courage of their convictions.”
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The 35-year-old came on and helped turn the tide, with a 1-0 deficit cancelled out by Stoke forward Jonathan Walters in the 85th minute and Shane Duffy seeing a late goal controversially ruled out, angering O’Neill.
“I said before the game that O’Neill had to start with Hoolahan and I was very disappointed to see the line-up without him,” Giles continued.
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“Instead of starting the game on the front foot with Hoolahan doing what he does best and putting Ireland firmly on the offensive, O’Neill chose Glenn Whelan as a holding midfielder and told his players to hit long balls.
“This was agricultural stuff and handed the initiative to Austria.
“When Hoolahan came on, everything changed. Suddenly, there was a way through to goal and suddenly, the Austrian defence looked like it might give one up every time the ball came anywhere near their penalty area.”
Hoolahan won his 40th cap in the game, coming after being introduced as a substitute in two warm-up friendlies, a 3-1 loss to Mexico in the USA and a 3-1 win over Uruguay at the Aviva Stadium.
It is a debate Norwich fans have had many times during the Irishman’s nine seasons in Norfolk – and it seems the Irish debate is coming to the same conclusion.
“Ireland started as justifiable favourites against a team I don’t rate and made things an awful lot harder than they needed to be,” Giles summed up.
“It’s an old, old story with Ireland and maybe someday, O’Neill will have the courage to trust a player like Wes Hoolahan.”