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Will Smallbone should feature for Ireland against Latvia

Evan Ferguson isn't the only young, emerging star for Ireland who could feature next week.

Irish journalist Gavin Cooney joined The Football Show to discuss the Ireland squad and Will Smallbone.

All eyes are on Evan Ferguson this week, but Ireland have more than one young player coming through.

Will Smallbone is a star of Ireland's youth teams and he was in the squad in November alongside Ferguson. Although he didn't feature then, Smallbone is expected to play next week against Latvia as Kenny gives opportunities to fringe players.

Smallbone is in the squad on merit because he is playing football weekly in the Championship for Stoke City. The 23-year-old played for Ireland at under-18, under-19, and under-21 level. He does not have a cap for the senior team yet.

Gavin Cooney explains that Smallbone has earned the trust and appreciation of Stephen Kenny.

"You'd imagine that he will get a chance," Cooney said.

"I was slightly surprised that we didn't even see him against Malta in November. But I think there has been a policy under this management team really of not just handing out caps for the sake of it. Stephen Kenny has mentioned on numerous times that to play for your country has to be the most important thing.

"So from a selection point of view you should make that difficult. You should have to achieve things.

"Smallbone has shown no signs of being disappointed about not getting onto the pitch in November. He has been playing very well for Stoke in recent weeks. A hattrick of assists against Sunderland is probably his headline act.

"You'd imagine we might see him against Latvia. He's included in the squad ahead of Conor Hourihane....this is the first time in a very long time that he's been omitted."

Smallbone is a more attacking player than Hourihane. He won't sit deep in a defensive role and he has a far greater repertoire of technical qualities. Ireland can deploy him in a midfield role but he could also play as one of the two attacking midfielders in behind a striker.

Kenny will pick Smallbone as a midfielder based on the squad as a whole. That means he will compete with Jeff Hendrick for playing time and hope to play alongside Josh Cullen and Jayson Molumby.

Ireland face Latvia next Wednesday and then play against France the following Monday. Both games take place in Dublin, but the France game is the start of the European qualifying campaign..

Phil Foden is competing with Kevin De Bruyne for a starting spot - Sam Lee.


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Evan Ferguson Ireland Latvia Stephen Kenny Will Smallbone