JAMES McCLEAN again made his case for a recall to the Sunderland starting XI last night, but it was late heartbreak for the Black Cats’ Irish contingent.
McClean enjoyed a second successive productive outing for the Republic of Ireland in the 2-2 draw with Austria, in front of watching Sunderland chief scout Pop Robson.
The former Derry City winger, who has not started a Premier League encounter since January, delivered the corner from which Stoke’s Jonathan Walters gave Ireland the lead and then went close himself in the second half when he fired a free-kick into the side netting.
That will have not gone unnoticed by Martin O’Neill, who is likely to revert to a 4-4-1-1 formation for Saturday’s visit of Manchester United after top scorer Steven Fletcher sustained an ankle injury for Scotland last week.
Arguably of more importance for O’Neill, though, will have been the sight of McClean and John O’Shea coming through unscathed after both completed the full 90 minutes of a dramatic encounter.
Walters’ first half double had cancelled out Martin Harnik’s 11th minute opener for Austria at Dublin’s Aviva Stadium and Giovanni Trapattoni’s looked on course for a back-to-back wins in Qualification Group C.
That would have taken them into second place, behind leaders Germany, in the group.
But Ireland were pegged back in the second minute of stoppage time when Bayern Munich’s David Alaba grabbed a last-gasp equaliser.
O’Shea and McClean were the only Sunderland players in action last night.
With Seb Larsson released from the Sweden squad and David Vaughan still troubled by a groin injury, both of the Black Cats’ stoppers were restricted to the bench by their countries – Keiren Westwood for Ireland and Simon Mignolet in Belgium’s 1-0 win over Macedonia.
Meanwhile, Sunderland striker Connor Wickham hopes he has done enough to be included in the England Under-21 squad for the summer’s European Championships.
Wickham netted his fifth goal in seven internationals during a man-of-the-match display in Monday’s 4-0 rout of Austria, with U21 boss Stuart Pearce set to announce his 23-man squad for the Euro’s in May.
“I would like to think I have sealed a place,” said the £8million man. “I’ve scored a few goals throughout the campaign. I scored again against Austria and got two man-of-the-match awards so hopefully it will be in the gaffer’s mind.
“But at the end of the day, it is his choice. I think anybody involved with the campaign is in with a shout of getting on the plane.”