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"James isn't Kevin De Bruyne, we need to be careful with what we expect"

In the aftermath of Ireland's 1-1 draw with Bulgaria, former Irish internationals Matt Holland and Kenny Cunningham considered the task facing Stephen Kenny with his midfield.

The first game in Stephen Kenny's tenure as the Republic of Ireland manager, there has been no great rush to draw conclusions from what was an imperfect performance in Sofia.

A new manager with a new way of wanting the game to be played, it is accepted that Kenny's prospective success in the role will require adequate time being given to him.

Unfortunately, while the Irish fans appear keen to embrace this exciting new style of football Kenny promises, the former Dundalk manager does not have many games to necessarily bring the players up to speed before the serious stuff commences.

After Sunday's Nations League clash with Finland, it will be little over one month before Ireland's crucial European Championships qualifier against Slovakia.

So, while Matt Holland and Kenny Cunningham were keen to find the positives in Ireland's performance on Friday's OTB AM, the reality of some issues couldn't be overlooked as the tougher tasks ahead loom over Kenny's team.

"I thought James McCarthy struggled," admitted former Irish midfielder, Matt Holland.

"I thought he struggled in possession of the ball and gave it away too often. So, yeah, it wasn't his best performance by any stretch of the imagination."

At the base of a midfield three, McCarthy, with Conor Hourihane and Jeff Hendrick ahead of him, didn't provide the kind of calm assurance that one in this role is usually charged with maintaining.

Condemned by John Giles for doing a good deal of pointing where the ball should go without taking it on himself onĀ Off The Ball, it was the Crystal Palace midfielder's first game for Ireland in four years.

"He can play better," suggested Holland, "but in that position I think the most important thing is keeping the ball and that is something he didn't do well enough.

"We all know of his attributes for tracking people down and snuffing the opposition's threat out, but when he's on the ball he needs to do more with it."

Despite McCarthy's shortcomings on the night, Holland believes the answer to Ireland's midfield problems could be solved within those three players Kenny selected.

"I felt before the game that the balance of that midfield looked pretty good," he explained.

"I actually think now that they could swap Conor [Hourihane] and James McCarthy around and play that way.

"You could have Conor trying to get the ball from the back four and play forward from there, while McCarthy uses his energy with Hendrick to get about the pitch and get forward."

Similarly, an under-par performance against Bulgaria does not necessarily mean McCarthy should be cast aside, in Kenny Cunningham's mind.

"John know the position better than most," suggested Cunningham in light of Giles' criticism, "and I do understand what he's saying about James' responsibility to get on the ball.

"It isn't always as easy as that though. Yes, you want to get on the ball but other teams will try to prevent you from doing that. Sometimes you need to be clever and have a little bit of rotation in midfield.

"I'm a big fan of James and I think that's his best position. I love to see him playing there. But we shouldn't be getting carried away that we have a real quarter-back in there in terms of his passing range.

"James McCarthy is a very efficient passer of the ball, but he isn't the kind of lad who will get on the ball and hit a 40-yard pass through the eye of a needle. He doesn't have that Kevin De Bruyne range of passing, he isn't on that level.

"So, we have to be careful with what we expect.

Although Cunningham enjoys seeing McCarthy play in that central role, the former Ireland captain did concede that Hourihane's greater range of passing may give him an advantage in that role.

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Conor Hourihane Ireland James McCarthy Kenny Cunningham Matt Holland Nathan Murphy Nations League Republic Of Ireland Stephen Kenny

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