Ireland defeated minnows Moldova last night in their World Cup Group D qualifier encounter after a slight scare saw them still level with 25 minutes to play.
A much needed goal for the out of sorts Shane Long and a brace from James McClean gave Ireland the win with an Igor Bugaev goal sandwiched in between for the hosts.
Ireland began brightly and opened the scoring with just two minutes on the clock. A beautifully weighted through ball from the returning Wes Hoolahan found Shane Long who latched on to the pass and finished neatly into the far corner.
Martin O’Neill’s side looked like a new team after Thursday’s disappointing performance against Georgia. They pressed their opponents high up the pitch and the defence was keeping a high line with Glenn Whelan playing in a much more advanced position than viewers and himself are used to.
Whelan was a number of good first half performers with Hoolahan’s link play also excellent and Seamus Coleman bombing forward on the right every chance he got.
Coleman’s pace was causing Moldova problems but Ireland rarely created anything more than half a chance with Moldova keeper Nikolai Calancea relatively untested.
With Ireland not adding to their lead it was almost inevitable that the hosts would score and low and behold into added time they did.
When there was seemingly nothing on for a Moldova team who offered relatively nothing going forward Shane Duffy decided to step up and intercept a header that never came, the ball was played in behind him to Bugaev who showed impressive pace and a cool head to draw Randolph out and finish to his left.
Martin O’ Neil described Duffy’s role in the goal as “a dunderhead moment” and you’d have to wonder do we have a problem with our centre backs at the moment.
Against better opposition we wouldn’t get away with mistakes like this. In fact, we have been punished before. During the Euro’s, Ciaran Clark had an awful game against Belgium and Duffy followed by having a nightmare and getting sent off against France.
John O’ Shea is past it and Richard Keogh isn’t having the best of seasons for a championship club that seems to be in disarray. So O’ Neil has a few selection headaches coming up.
Luckily for Duffy he had Wes Hoolohan and James McClean to bail him out. After a worrying opening few minutes of the second half Ireland soon began to gain back control.
Hoolahan grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck, he started playing nice little intricate passes and just generally getting Ireland back on the front foot. Once again sending a message to O’ Neill that he is pivotal to Ireland’s success.
By the 69th minute Ireland had regained the lead. James McCarthy found himself in space at the edge of the box, unleashed a shot which fell at the feet of Jon Walters who had the quickness of mind to leave it to the on rushing McClean who kept his calm to slot it into the corner of the Macedonian net.
A few minutes later Ireland had another. Some brilliant work from Hoolahan down the right saw him nutmeg the Macedonian defender to find Coleman who raced into the box along the end line.
He looked up and found McClean who had made a well-timed late dash into the box. His first time finish made it 3-1 and wrapped up all three points.
The win means Ireland move joint top with Serbia on seven points who beat Austria tonight. Wales dropping points at home to Georgia and Austria losing in Serbia are two big results for Ireland.
With Austria up next in the Aviva, a win could put Ireland in a very favourable position going into the new year but there’s lots of work to be done before we start booking our flights to Russia.