Conor Hourihane will step into the breach for the Republic of Ireland against Bulgaria as manager Mick McCarthy considers possible solutions to a fast-approaching problem.
The Aston Villa midfielder will line up at left-back at the Aviva Stadium on Tuesday evening with Enda Stevens – who has started all five Euro 2020 qualifiers to date in that role – suspended for October’s trip to Georgia after picking up three yellow cards.
McCarthy needs to find a deputy for a game which will prove key to Ireland’s qualification hopes with right-sided wing-back Matt Doherty, who is absent through injury this month, and winger James McClean having been mentioned in dispatches along with Stephen Ward and Greg Cunningham.
However, Hourihane will get the nod against the Bulgarians and while he is likely to return to his more accustomed position in Georgia, his manager is keen to see what he can offer.
McCarthy said: “He is a very intelligent player, that’s for sure. He has a wonderful left foot and if we can get him further up the pitch so he can deliver crosses, we should get some joy out of that.
“Depending on who is up against him – if he has a flying winger can he deal with it? At least I will have had a look at that and it might be another string to his bow.
“Is there anything at stake tomorrow night except trying to find some things out? No, would you agree? Well, why would I not try it?
“What happens if it ends up being that he looks amazing? He’s got all the tools to play there, that’s for sure. Wouldn’t it be great if it turned out that I thought, ‘Well, I’ve got one that can play there’?”
The Republic will face Bulgaria knowing that two wins out of three against Georgia, Switzerland and Denmark when they return to competitive action in October would see them qualify for next summer’s finals, but McCarthy knows that will be easier said than done.
He said with a smile: “That should be nice and easy then, won’t it? Georgia away, Switzerland away and Denmark at home.
“We went to Denmark and tried to win that and at the end of it we might have nicked it. We tried against Switzerland to beat them, but we didn’t.
“We remain unbeaten and I always have confidence that we can win games.”
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