Matt Doherty's assist against Burnley proves that he should start Ireland's games next month
"I believe he can drive forward."
Martin O'Neill's explanation for omitting Matt Doherty from his starting line-up for the Republic of Ireland didn't make a lot of sense when he said it. And now seems even more perplexing.
The Ireland manager appears to consider Doherty to be his third-choice right-back. Captain Seamus Coleman plays in his position, so few expected Doherty to start the 4-1 defeat to Wales in Cardiff.
However, even when Coleman picked-up an injury, Doherty still couldn't get a start.
For the friendly against Poland last week, O'Neill opted for Cyrus Christie at right wing-back. Doherty, who has impressed for Wolves as a wing-back, had to make do with 36 minutes on the pitch as a second-half substitute.
O'Neill suggested to reporters that the former Bohemians defender is behind Coleman and Christie in the Ireland pecking order. He mentioned that this is partly because he cuts back and passes into midfield, rather than drives on with the ball.
"But my own view and I think he totally agrees with me is that the way Wolves play at times, when he’s out wide he’ll look to pass it in-field again. I believe he can drive forward," the Ireland manager said.
"When he gets the confidence to do that I believe he can because he’s strong. Cyrus will try and drive forward like that in that position."
Yet, on Sunday, the Dubliner drove forward and set-up the only goal of the game on the way to winning the man of the match award.
Matt Doherty - Man of the Match
Touches: 98 (most in match)
Open play crosses: 6 (most in match)
Passing Acc: 81%@Wolves 30 shots is the most they've ever had in a PL game
Wolves win successive @premierleague games for the 1st time since Aug 2011 (41 games) pic.twitter.com/2CtQsVYl0O
— Sky Sports Statto (@SkySportsStatto) September 16, 2018
Doherty played a short pass into Ruben Neves and ran into the space between Burnley's midfield and defence.
Neves passed to Helder Costa who had drifted wide. Costa then played a ball around the corner to Doherty. The Irish defender had continued his run and drove into Burnley's penalty area.
Doherty collected the ball and played a first-time pass to Raul Jimenez, who swept home to give Wolves a well-deserved lead.
Jimenez's goal lifted Wolves into ninth-place in the Premier League and Doherty's performance was central to the victory.
The 26-year-old had more touches than any other player on the pitch (98) and was Wolves' main attacking outlet. O'Neill's apparent reservations about his attacking qualities seem utterly baffling.
Doherty was also defensively sound, and he didn't put a foot wrong during a dominant win.
There have been suggestions that the Ireland manager isn't keen on Doherty because he wears gloves and tights when training in cold weather, something the defender was asked about in an interview published on Sunday.
"He has mentioned the gloves. I wear them because it's cold," Doherty told reporters earlier this week.
"When I first went out he had a joke about the gloves, nothing too serious. I don't know. Ask him."
He went on to ponder the reasons behind his lack of game time for the national team, having played just a handful of games for Ireland.
"I know he's said he would like me to attack more. Maybe I'll do that. When I first joined up it was my defending that was the problem. Now it's my attacking. Maybe my face just doesn't fit."
"I've been around the squads since 2016 but I’ve only picked up three caps, all off the bench for a few minutes. I'd like a lot more caps and a few more starts."
Considering he has impressed for Wolves over the last few seasons, and Coleman spent a year out injured with a double leg-break, Doherty's omission has been difficult to understand.
With the Ireland captain injured, maybe Doherty will get his chance in the team for October's games against Wales and Denmark in Dublin.