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McClean to be man in the middle
SUNDERLAND winger James McClean looks set to finally make his competitive bow in a Republic of Ireland shirt this week - even if it means a more central role.
Despite becoming a permanent fixture out on the left for the Black Cats over the last ten months, the Derryman's international chances have been few and far between under coach Giovanni Trapattoni.
But with the Irish looking for a freshness following their disappointing European Championships performance, McClean looks set for his first competitive start for his country.
Rather than use him out on his preferred left, however, Trapattoni has hinted he could be asked to play behind the front two when Ireland play Kazakhstan in a World Cup qualifier on Friday.
Following the withdrawal of Everton midfielder Darron Gibson, the Italian coach is looking at his options and is seriously considering handing McClean a more central position.
That is likely to mean Aiden McGeady and James McCarthy playing out wide, Glenn Whelan holding in midfield and the Sunderland man being asked to provide the link behind strikers Kevin Doyle and Robbie Keane.
Trapattoni has previously hinted he would consider playing McClean wide right and his latest thinking is to push him inside to cause problems in a green shirt.
"We have tried to play him differently but after 20 minutes against Serbia I changed his position," said Trapattoni. "Maybe in Kazakhstan McClean will play up with the two strikers. That is not a problem for him.
"We have also other players who can play in that position. The position is different to where he usually plays but he can also play there. We will wait and see what the condition of the other players is but he could play there."
Gibson's decision to pull out of the Ireland squad has opened the door for McClean's Sunderland team-mate David Meyler, although he is not an option to play such an attacking role behind the strikers.
Meyler's inclusion means there are now four Sunderland players in the squad, along with McClean, John O'Shea and Keiren Westwood.
They all joined up with the squad on Sunday after heading straight over to their homeland after Saturday's 2-2 draw with Swansea City at the Liberty Stadium. They are also expected to be involved in the friendly with Oman on Monday.
McClean, who scored both goals in Sunderland's Capital One Cup win over Morecambe a week ago, has not been at his best in the first two Premier League outings against Arsenal and Swansea.
But he is keen to make a name for himself for the Irish after a frustrating summer in which he only made one substitute appearance at Euro 2012 against Spain when the game was all but over.
He has six caps so far and sources close to the Ireland camp think McClean will be starting at the Ortalyk Tsentralnyi Stadium in Astana on Friday.
* Sunderland will play MK Dons in the Capital One Cup Third Round on Tuesday, September 25, 7.45pm kick off.
* Sunderland's home game with West Brom has been brought forward from Sunday, November 25 to Saturday, November 24, 12.45pm kick-off.
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