RAY HOUGHTON EXPECTS to see some strong hints about Giovanni Trapattoni’s Stockholm strategy when Ireland take on Poland.
The Italian assembles his troops this weekend with five uncapped players — including Derby County trio Conor Sammon, Jeff Hendrick and Richard Keogh — in the squad for the Aviva Stadium friendly on 6 February.
The game is Ireland’s first since losing to Greece in November and the last chance for Trap to fine tune his team and tactics ahead of the crucial qualification double-header against Sweden and Austria.
With so much on the line in Stockholm on 22 March, and again four days later when Austria come to Dublin, Houghton expects Trapattoni to use the match as a trial run for his gameplan.
“It’s interesting to see what the manager is going to do: what the starting XI is and whether he goes with one up front,” Houghton told TheScore.ie at an ESPN event in Dublin yesterday.
This game is really a precursor for the two important games. What you’re trying to get across to the players this time around is what you’re going to be using in the next two matches — whether you’re going to change the system, change the way the players are going to line up, [use] one striker or five in midfield.
It will give us a good indicator of what’s in his thoughts for the two games, the two most important ones.
Of those hoping for a chance to impress, Sammon, Hendrick and Norwich City winger Anthony Pilkington all look to have the strongest claims on form after Trapattoni indicated that “two or three” new faces will start next week. The Rams duo have been among the goals of late, with two and three respectively since the turn of the year, while Lancashire-born Pilkington is finally eligible to win his first senior cap in green.
Houghton, capped 73 times for Ireland himself, is happy to see the manager shake things up a bit and reward those making their presence felt at club level.
“We’re at the stage where we do need to look at some new players. As fans, we don’t want to look at the same 23 in every game. Surely there’s one or two who are trying to force the issue and hopefully there’s a few out there who can come in and stir things up a bit.”
He added: “I think it’s hugely important that the squad evolves. The ones that you started with might not be playing as well at the moment so what’s to say that they’re going to come in to the Irish team and play well?
“You want to play players who are in form, who are playing well, whose confidence is up, but at the moment we are struggling.”