JOHN O’SHEA is in line to return to the Sunderland starting line-up against Fulham this weekend after helping the Republic of Ireland reach Euro 2012.
The Black Cats defender completed the full 90 minutes in last night’s qualification play-off second leg against Estonia, with the 1-1 draw completing a 5-1 aggregate victory for the Irish.
O’Shea has not featured for Sunderland since last month’s Stadium of Light outing against Aston Villa after suffering a recurrence of the hamstring problem first sustained during pre-season.
But the 30-year-old proved his fitness in Dublin last night as Ireland ensured they will be playing in Poland and the Ukraine next summer.
Sunderland boss Steve Bruce told the Echo: “It’s good that John is fit enough to be back playing for Ireland and I just hope that he has no reaction to the game.”
Phil Bardsley deputised effectively in O’Shea’s absence in Sunderland’s narrow defeat at Manchester United before the international break, while fellow full-back Kieran Richardson was equally solid.
But with the suspended Seb Larsson and injured Connor Wickham both missing the clash with the Cottagers, Bruce is toying with the idea of tweaking his back four.
O’Shea could line up at right-back, with Bardsley moving across to left-back and Richardson pushing forward into midfield.
Former Manchester United man O’Shea’s return ahead of schedule does a provide an injury boost to Bruce though and the defender will be buoyant after securing Ireland’s first appearance at a major championships in a decade.
Ireland went into the game having all but secured their passage in Tallinn on Friday night, but skipper Robbie Keane passed up two early opportunities to extend the 4-0 lead with which they returned.
However, full-back Stephen Ward reminded him how to do it 14 minutes before the break.
Keeper Pavel Londak could only parry Kevin Doyle’s header and the Wolves defender was on home to smash the loose ball into the back of the net to start the party in earnest.
But the bumper crowd saw Estonia respond and get their reward 12 minutes after the restart when Shay Given was beaten by Konstantin Vassiljev’s viciously swerving 30-yard drive.
The visitors finished strongly as they looked to gain revenge for defeat on their own pitch, but could not force a late breakthrough.
Manager Giovanni Trapattoni said: “I am very, very proud for many reasons. We came here with an important objective.
“We have started the last campaign in a difficult group with Italy and then we had France, and we could have achieved qualification.
“But we started again and we have discovered new important options in terms of players. They have shown how important they have been for us.
“We have improved our quality, like against Russia. We have started again with new mentality and the players believe in our system.”
Rep of Ireland: Given, O’Shea, St Ledger, Dunne, Ward, Duff (Fahey 79), Whelan, Andrews, Hunt (McGeady 59), Keane (Cox 67), Doyle. Subs Not Used: Westwood, McCarthy, O’Dea, Walters. Goals: Ward 32.
Estonia: Londak, Jaager, Rahn, Klavan, Kruglov (Puri 18), Teniste, Vassiljev, Vunk, Lindpere (Kink 54), Saag, Voskoboinikov (Purje 72). Subs Not Used: Kotenko, Sisov, Dmitrijev, Barengrub. Booked: Rahn, Vunk. Goals: Vassiljev 57. Agg: (5-1) Att: 51,151.