O'Neill admits Ireland can't afford to lose to Scotland
MARTIN O'NEILL has challenged his Republic of Ireland players not to leave themselves with a mountain to climb by losing to Scotland on Saturday.
The Republic head into the Euro 2016 qualifier against the Scots at the Aviva Stadium sitting in fourth place in Group D, three points behind leaders Poland and two adrift of both Germany and Gordon Strachan's men at the halfway stage. Victory would keep them firmly in the hunt for one of the two automatic qualification places, but anything less could prove hugely damaging with defeat realistically not an option if they are keep alive their hopes of making it to France.
Asked where the game ranks in terms of his illustrious career, O'Neill said: "Well, of course it's a great match to be involved in for a start. Eventually, you come to a stage where you start out in the group and you come to crunch matches, and this is very important.
"You don't want Scotland to get too far ahead of ourselves and give ourselves a mountain to climb for the last four matches. It would be important to win the game, and we'll be right there.
"If we lose the game, the gap with only four matches left, it becomes difficult. But there will be a few twists and turns until you complete the group. We have some home matches and we want to take advantage of that."
Scotland claimed the points when the sides met in Glasgow last November, with Shaun Maloney's second half strike enough to secure victory on a night when Ireland did not do enough to give themselves a chance of winning. They will have to be significantly better this time around if they are to overhaul the Scots, but there is no lack of confidence within the camp.
O'Neill said: "They [Scotland] have decent pace in the team. They are pretty confident within themselves. It's taken them a bit of time to get going, but Scotland have a bit of momentum.
"We haven't lost ourselves though - maybe one in the last seven or eight - so we have some momentum."
O'Neill's team selection will be closely scrutinised after he left out 65-goal record scorer Robbie Keane for the game at Celtic Park - the first time he had not started an international when available for 13 years - and saw his side turn in a toothless display. However, as ever, he was giving little away when asked about his master-plan.
He said: "I have an idea of the team, but there is plenty of time between now and Saturday. There is plenty of time before Scotland.
"I've been doing this job, management, for quite some time. I'm okay. I'm happy enough with it myself. Be relaxed."
Perhaps one of O'Neill's biggest decisions will come at left-back, where Hull winger Robbie Brady has been handed a crash course in defending in recent games.
The 23-year-old lined up at the back in the draw with Poland in March with specialist full-back Stephen Ward injured, and again in Sunday's friendly against England, and performed creditably on both occasions. Brady freely admits he is still a novice in the role, but O'Neill has been impressed with him.
He said: "He has played very well in the games. He introduced himself against the USA and has gone on since then.
"I've a lot of time for Stephen Ward as a player, as a person, really great, and competition for places is no bad thing.
"Robbie can play in a number of positions, which is great for us, and takes most things in his stride. He doesn't seem to get too perturbed by things. Stephen at this minute would be more of a left-back, but can get forward himself and is no mean footballer."
Brady has the added asset of being able to deliver a telling dead ball, and O'Neill hinted that might just help to get him the nod.
He said: "We had a couple of set pieces which went astray against Poland and we didn't pick up from them, but that [England game] was more the Robbie Brady we know, and we're pretty confident he can deliver in big games."