Sky Blues land Philliskirk

Barnsley manager David Flitcroft has confirmed that his interest

in former Tykes midfielder Brian Howard is on hold.

Howard recently approached the club with regards to a possible

return following his release from Portsmouth in the middle of last

month.

Flitcroft said at the time that he was keen on exploring the

possibilities of a deal, but is now in no rush to bring back the

club’s former skipper.

“I’ve spoken to his people and at the minute we’ve cooled off,”

said Flitcroft. “It’s possibly down to the emergence of Kelvin

Etuhu and his form and I’ve got Rory (Delap) now who can come in

there.

“So at the minute we’re quite comfy in what we’re doing. I

definitely don’t want to unsettle the group, but you’re only one

injury away from having to find that replacement.

“It’s something I could revisit at a different point, but with

the FA Cup coming up and everything it won’t be in the next 10

days.”

Howard, a fans favourite during his three-and-a-half years at

Oakwell, joined the club from Swindon in 2005 and scored the

90th-minute winner for Barnsley at Anfield in February 2008 that

knocked Liverpool out of the FA Cup.

The Republic head for Sweden on March 22 and entertain Austria

at the Aviva Stadium four days later as the three sides chasing

Group C leaders Germany jockey for position in the race for second

place.

Sweden are the current occupants with seven points, one more

than Giovanni Trapattoni’s men, while the Austrians lie in fourth

on four points with all three teams having played three games.

However, the Swedes went to Germany on October 16 last year,

four days after Ireland were trounced 6-1 on their own pitch by

Joachim Low’s side, and returned with a point after a remarkable

4-4 draw.

Asked if next month’s fixtures are likely to be decisive, Whelan

said: “Yes, I think so.

“We know Germany are probably the favourites – well, they are

the favourites – so everyone is fighting for the second spot.

“Obviously, the results that Sweden have been getting, it’s

going to be tough, but we can only go out and do our best.

“If we get the right result, it gives everyone a lift and

something to look forward to, so that’s what we are hopefully going

to do.”

Trapattoni and his players will head for their showdown in

Stockholm in positive mood after Wednesday night’s 2-0 friendly

victory over Poland in Dublin.

The Italian rang the changes, partly through necessity with

Richard Dunne, Seamus Coleman, Keith Andrews and Darron Gibson

injured while skipper Robbie Keane and central defender Darren

O’Dea were excused duty.

Millwall’s David Forde started in goal with number one Keiren

Westwood’s lack of club football with Sunderland a growing concern

for his international manager, while Ciaran Clark, Greg Cunningham,

Robbie Brady, James McCarthy, James McClean and debutant Conor

Sammon started.

There were impressive cameos too from Norwich’s Wes Hoolahan and

Derby’s Jeff Hendrick, who combined for the former to cement

victory with his first senior international goal after Clark had

opened his account before the break.

Trapattoni for once had admitted in advance that the result was

secondary on a night when he wanted to look at his options, but in

the event, he got both as Ireland ended a run of two successive

home defeats in spirited fashion after having to weather an early

onslaught.

Whelan said: “People were saying it was only a friendly, but if

we had lost, it would have been a different story and different

headlines.

“We knew it was massive. We have got a great bunch of young lads

coming through and it’s been a big turn-around from the last couple

of years because we have had some massive players who have retired

from international football.

“But the new lads have stepped up and it’s massive now for next

month.”

Defender John O’Shea, captaining the side in Keane’s absence,

admitted the new players, and 30-year-old Hoolahan in particular,

had given the manager something to think about ahead of two vital

games.

He said: “It was a great goal from Wes. There might have been a

suspicion of handball – I think the Gaelic Dublin team better watch

out.

“It was a great finish from him, though. The quality of Wes,

that’s what he is capable of.

“He came on and he has given the manager a tough decision now

for March. He came on and made a massive impact, he did what he had

to do.

“We probably passed it a little bit more because obviously the

size of Wes, we were looking in the second half to keep the ball a

bit better and bringing Wes on helped us to do that – but we can do

a lot better at that as well.

“He took his goal fantastically. The manager especially thinks

of people when they are scoring goals, it definitely opens his

eyes, and we will wait and see. But there are bodies to come back

as well.”

Wilshere was outstanding in Wednesday night’s friendly victory

over Brazil, deservedly scooping the man-of-the-match prize as

England recorded their first win over the South Americans in 23

years.

As a veteran of 90 internationals, 65 as skipper – a figure

exceeded only by Bobby Moore and Billy Wright – Robson is acutely

aware of the dangers lurking in heaping such high praise on

Wilshere.

And speaking at a Subbuteo event at Wembley on behalf of

Absolute Radio and official England supporter Mars, Robson warned

are still areas of Wilshere’s game that require more work.

“Jack still has a bit to prove,” said Robson.

“He has good ability, works really hard for the team and has

that little bit of aggression which he wants to win. That all comes

out in his game.

“But I look at him and think what kind of player does Jack want

to be? Is he going to be an offensive player? If he is, he needs to

score more goals.

“If he is going to be defensive, he has to work that little bit

harder on the defensive side of his game.”

Yet Robson concedes Wilshere could have no better example to

learn from than skipper Steven Gerrard, whose understated

contribution last night went largely unnoticed amid the excellent

performances of Wilshere and Theo Walcott and the goals of Wayne

Rooney and Frank Lampard.

“Steven Gerrard has offensive and defensive qualities,” said

Robson.

“When required, he can attack, he can score goals, alternatively

he can sit in front of the back four, defend and do a great passing

job.

“That is what Jack has to try and achieve.

“The positive thing is that his attitude looks good. It seems

like he wants to learn and, when you have weaknesses, that is what

you need to become a better player.”

Robson also warned that the real challenge for Wilshere and his

team-mates will come 12 months after that, when they need to make

the step up from being a decent tournament team to one capable of

challenging for major honours.

“For England, the difference between being at a World Cup and

competing for it is how many of the young lads can actually make

the step up to the highest level,” Robson said.

“We have Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard, Ashley Cole, Jermain

Defoe and Wayne Rooney, who isn’t that old but has so much

experience, but you can’t expect those lads to do it on their

own.

“(Manager) Roy Hodgson has given a chance to quite a few young

lads; Wilshere, Tom Cleverley, Chris Smalling and Phil Jones. Gary

Cahill has put himself in there.

“When you go further forward, can Daniel Sturridge come through,

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Theo Walcott?

“These young lads have to take the next step.

“We all know they are decent players in the Premier League and

it is okay breaking into the England squad. But can you be

outstanding at the highest level?

“If three or four of them can become really good international

players, that will help us hugely at the World Cup.”

The 21-year-old forward is a free agent following his release by

Sheffield United in January and has been on trial with the Sky

Blues recently.

City boss Mark Robins, who has again dismissed speculation

linking himself with various managerial vacancies in the

Championship, said: “Danny has been with Sheffield United for a

couple of years and prior to that had been acquired by Chelsea.

“This fits into our policy of trying to develop younger players

who can step through to the first team. We will assess the

situation at the end of the season, while giving Danny the

opportunity to earn himself a longer-term contract.”