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Stephen Kenny Has A Big Will Smallbone Decision To Make Ahead Of France Game

Stephen Kenny Has A Big Will Smallbone Decision To Make Ahead Of France Game
By Gary Connaughton Updated
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Gary Connaughton reporting from the Aviva Stadium

It seems that every Ireland fixture leads to more mystery about the short-term future of the team. That was true once again this evening, with the 3-2 win over Latvia perhaps providing more questions than answers.

That is true in both a positive and negative sense.

Ireland's performance on the night is unlikely to inspire much confidence ahead of the game against France.

There were some good aspects to their attacking play, especially in the first half. However, the way in which the two goals against the run of play in the first half knocked them off kilter for the rest of the match was concerning. Considering that they are likely to face plenty of adversity when the French come to town, you would have concerns about how they would react.

Perhaps that issue will be addressed by the return of the likes of Seamus Coleman, John Egan, and Josh Cullen to the side, leaders who tend to have a calming influence on the team as a whole.

In saying that, a familiar issue did raise its head.

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Once again, Ireland were undone by a goal from long range. It has been a recurring theme throughout Stephen Kenny's tenure, and while there is an aspect of misfortune involved with teams repeatedly scoring wonder goals against the team, it has happened often enough for it to become a concern.

On a more positive note, a handful of recent additions to the squad did show some promise. Evan Ferguson got his first international goal and put in a solid performance up front, while Mikey Johnston made a huge impact off the bench.

However, it was Will Smallbone that really caught the eye.

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Will Smallbone give Stephen Kenny France selection headache

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For a number of years, Ireland have lacked a real creative presence in the middle third. Numerous players have been tasked with filling that role in recent seasons, none of which have managed to do so with any sustained success.

Will Smallbone dropped a few hints tonight that he could be that man moving forward.

He was named man-of-the-match on his senior international debut, putting in an excellent display. It was his willingness to drive forward and take risks on the ball that really captured the attention. His delivery from out wide was exemplary, as evidenced by Ireland's first goal of the night.

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The question is, has he done enough to put him in the frame to feature against France?

It was assumed that his place in the side tonight was an opportunity for him to feature in a less pressured environment, with the more experienced members of the squad to come back in on Monday evening.

Smallbone's comfort in this game should raise some real questions as to whether that would be the right move. Speaking to the media after the game, Stephen Kenny said that he has been massively impressed with what the midfielder has achieved at Stoke City in recent weeks.

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 What we have now is a high number of players that have come through, huge numbers have come through.

What that has given us is depth in our squad when players are missing. That doesn't mean that we have incredible quality in all positions all the time, I'm not suggesting that. We are improving all the time with our depth, the quality of player coming into the team...

I've watched a good bit of Stoke City recently over the last few weeks. I've been so impressed with the way he has kicked on himself.

He was a good player early in the season is some games, quiet in others. He was quiet within games at times, good moments but not dominant.

He has had a great spell, really added other aspects to his game. He has come on a lot. He has given us something to think about, certainly.

The France game will be an altogether different prospect to the Latvia one. Whereas Ireland had most of the ball and a higher quality of player tonight, the opposite will be true in next week's game.

It will require a different approach from Kenny's side, one in which other players may be better suited than Smallbone. Josh Cullen is certain to come back into the team, while Jason Knight is also a likely starter considering that he did not feature in this game.

The Irish boss admitted as much:

[Smallbone] gives us another option. We're going to have to wait and see on that, how everyone comes through today.

We have two players that we kept fresh in Josh Cullen, who does that holding midfield job really well, and Jason Knight. We kept them fresh today so they will come into consideration also.

Depending on how the game goes, Smallbone could be a huge asset to have on the bench if he does not start. His comfort on the ball is something that is often lacking in this Ireland side and he showed tonight what he is all about.

In a game where nobody expects much from Ireland, he could be the one to provide a bit of magic.

SEE ALSO: Ireland Player Ratings As Chiedozie Ogbene Goal Spares Team's Blushes Against Latvia

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