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Paul McGrath: Wes Hoolahan playing behind Jon Walters is key for Ireland against Austria

SoccerBy Paul McGrath
Ireland players training in Dublin today
Ireland players training in Dublin today

I'VE a bad feeling about this. I think it could be 'Good­night Vienna' for Ireland next Saturday.

We head to Austria with­out Shane Long, James McCarthy and Stephen Ward while John O'Shea is carrying a knock.

It's definitely not what Martin O'Neill wanted for what was always going to be one of the toughest matches of the World Cup qualifying campaign.

It's bad luck for Ireland but there's nothing we can do about it. The game is this Saturday and we have to get on with it.

Without Shane, Jon Walters will get the call to lead the attack and I hope he is not abandoned in a front role ahead of a five-man midfield.

Otherwise it will be a long night of last-ditch Irish defending in the Aus­trian capital.

Instead, I hope Martin goes against the grain of recent selections for away competitive games by using Wes Hoolahan as a 'No 10'.

Long would give us the pace and the ability to run onto a ball behind the defence that Walters cannot.

With that taken away, we have to look for something else.

Big Jon can win knockdowns, yet there must be people there to take the knockdowns and hold the ball, giving our back-line a rest. That's where Wes comes in.

He can pick up the ball, hold it for a while and then give the ball to someone like Glenn Whelan, Robbie Brady or Harry Arter.

By that method we can sap Austria of vital momentum and maybe even get the home crowd on their backs.

I want to see O'Shea playing on Sat­urday if he is fit.

I know the Sunderland man hasn't been first choice with Martin ever since the match against Belgium in the summer.

But for this one we need an experi­enced leader, a shouter, an organiser at the back.

And two of Shane Duffy, Ciaran Clark or Richard Keogh may have to sacrifice their chance of playing on Sunday to allow O'Shea do all that.

It has been good to see Robbie Brady back in action for Norwich since that awful clash of heads against Georgia last month.

Once he's on the pitch, Robbie brings his set-piece danger to our play.

Whether having a go himself, or slinging in a cross for one of our bigger players, Robbie is one of our best bets to score or create a goal against Austria.

The Austrians are under a bit of pres­sure this week.

You can expect their manager Marcel Koller to be taking a bit of grief from their media and for him to be reminded that even a draw in this match is not good enough for them. They have to win this game.

It's all a bit different from 2015 for Aus­tria. Last year, they were really good in qualifying for Euro 2016, romp­ing to victory in their group.

But then they were poor when they got to France, being one of the eight sides out of 24 to be eliminated in the first round, failing to win a match against any of Portugal, Iceland or Hungary.

Still, they have quality players in David Ala­ba of Bayern Munich, Marko Arnautovic of Stoke City and I was real­ly taken by the perfor­mance of Austria's captain, Julian Baumgartlinger, in the Champions League last week.

He was playing in midfield for Bayer Leverkusen as they beat Tottenham Hotspur, and I thought he was excellent.

The Austrians are also under that early pressure in Group D, having lost to Serbia away, whereas Ireland got a draw.

And they dropped two home points to Wales last month, so they know they really have to win this one.

With a full Irish side, I'd fancy Ireland to play on that and have a real go at beating them.

But without Long and McCarthy, it's suddenly a tall order.

As O'Neill al­luded to the other day, Ireland simply cannot carry injuries in in­ternational foot­ball - we don't have the playing re­sources.

When Joachim Low of Germany learns of an injury in his group, he just calls up another quality player from a top Bundesliga club. Ireland just don't have that luxury.

We saw that last summer when our attacking play at Euro 2016 was not what it should have been because of the untimely loss of Walters to an in­jury picked up in the pre-tournament training camp.

Just one absent player can do that to Ireland.

With that in mind, and given the players we could be short on Saturday, I'd take your hand off for a draw right now.

And then we can take our chances with the group's three biggest teams still to come to Dublin next year.

Maybe if Seamus Coleman has a huge night at right-back, maybe if Walters finds his form of last year and if Rob­bie can produce a piece of magic from a corner or free-kick, then we'd be in business.

I'd love to predict it. I just can't see it happening.

After next Saturday night, the Boys in Green may have to dig themselves out.