By Dermot Clarke
Once again the Republic of Ireland is faced with the prospect of going into a vital game without the services of its most influential player, Roy Keane. Keane was missing from the Euro ’96 playoff game against Holland. He was absent again as we took on Belgium, in the playoffs for France ’98. Keane will miss our remaining qualifier for next year’s Euro Championship. If we beat Macedonia in Skopje on Saturday, we will, most likely, qualify for Euro 2000, to be hosted by both our aforementioned playoff rivals. Keane will rest his troublesome knee for a few weeks, after which a decision on the need for surgery will be made.
The present Republic of Ireland team can only be described as makeshift without Keane. How makeshift will be determined by Mick McCarthy’s team selection. Alan Kelly and Steve Staunton will vie for the goalkeeper’s spot. Staunton’s fine performance as stand-in against Everton probably won’t influence McCarthy, so Kelly will start, but don’t worry, we’ll find a spot for ye, Stan. Steven Carr and Denis Irwin, right and left full, has to be.
Central defense Kenny Cunningham and another or any other than Gary Breen. Phil Babb is a better player than Breen. He is out of favor and probably on his way out of Liverpool, but at least he could command a regular spot at Coventry. Breen made a schoolboy’s error that almost handed victory to Malta when the game was tied at 2, apart from that he looked comfortable playing against a team of hotel workers. He is not up to international standards.
The other option, Staunton-Cunningham. Mark Kinsella and Gary Kelly, I believe, will play in midfield. Mick, I think, will opt for Mark Kennedy and Lee Carsley as the other two. Alan McLoughlin and Keith O’Neill would be my choices. McLoughlin because he deserves to be there. He has always justified his selection, he is a class player. Because Portsmouth has appeared in parenthesis beside his name throughout his international career doesn’t mean he’s not up to it. O’Neill is anxious to prove himself in a green jersey. Most would see him more in a striking role, but if Keith puts on that shirt in any position, he’ll give his all and Saturday could be the day to bring the much-injured Middlesbrough man back.
Has to be Keane and Quinn up front. That is if the other Keane is fit. Doubts arose about Robbie at the weekend, an ankle injury the problem. I have it on good authority that the young striker will take his place. They’re being a bit overcautious, according to Keane. Quinn is at the top of his form with Sunderland, his understudy is too. Tony Cascarino scored a hat-trick for AS Nancy in the 3-0 win over Rennes at the weekend. Quinn knocked home a fine headed goal for his club in a 4-0 victory. Ireland must win in Macedonia, a team capable of victory is still available to Mick McCarthy. Roy Keane’s absence just makes the task more difficult.
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Manchester United now have two points out of a possible nine without Roy Keane. Chelsea tore the European champions apart at Stamford Bridge on Sunday. The Blues won 5-0 at a canter. Gustavo Poyet opened the scoring after just 30 seconds with a header. Massimo Taibi came for a cross that Denis Irwin seemed to have under his control. Taibi seemed to put Irwin off and Poyet nipped in to score. Chris Sutton made it 2 with a fine headed goal and, after 16 minutes, Chelsea were rampant. Seven minutes latter Dennis Wise was booked for a high tackle on Nicky Butt, who stupidly retaliated and was sent off for flooring his England teammate. United’s task, having been difficult, was now, with 10 men, impossible.
When Gus Poyet made it three on 54 minutes Chelsea went on cruise control. A few minutes late Henning Berg turned a cross into his own net to make it four, and local boy Jody Morris, who came in for Wise on 65, completed the scoring after 81 minutes when he rifled home a through ball from fellow substitute Le Saux. This result, coupled with West Ham’s 2-1 defeat of Arsenal, means that Leeds now top the Premiership having won at Watford.
The French lads are at it again. Patrick Vieira was sent off for a foul on Paulo di Canio in the West Ham-Arsenal derby. Not content, he chose to spit in the face of Neil Ruddock and jostle with a police officer before taking his early shower. Di Canio was at his best, scoring both goals, and Davor Suker’s 77th minute reply was too late to matter.
And so to Villa Park. Referee Rob Harris produced the cautionary yellow flag 10 times. In fairness, most were deserved, but a couple of decisions on the half-hour mark had even the most loyal Villa fans shaking their heads. Sami Hyypia was penalized on the edge of the box, having won the ball cleanly. Harris then booked Hyypia. The free-kick had been rolled into the path of Alan Thompson and Steve Staunton — as he was entitled to — attacked the ball. Harris obviously hadn’t seen that the kick was taken when the Irishman broke and so he sent him off as he was already on a yellow for an earlier foul on George Boateng.
Harris later rescinded the Red Card after viewing a tape of the game. FA media-man Steve Double stated: "We applaud this sort of thing. Mr. Harris made his decision after viewing television footage of the incident. He has openly acknowledged that from his angle he did not see that the ball had already been touched." So the FA accept that a referee can stand in a position where he can’t see a dead ball situation, can then make a decision on something he didn’t see, and then applaud when he admits to incompetence. Well Steve, this is a huge business we’re talking about. Managers’ jobs can sometimes hinge on such stupid decisions. Liverpool were forced to reshuffle and defend for an hour as a result of this particular stupid decision. They took home a point but they might have won with a full team. How do you rescind that?