Ireland secured a crucial 1-0 win in Vienna on Saturday evening, courtesy of James McClean’s second half strike. The result puts the boys in green top of Group D on 10 points, and here are five talking points from the World Cup qualifier…
James McClean is on fire
Never mind Will Grigg, James McClean is on fire for Ireland.
The Derry native has finally added end product to his tireless running and work ethic. He took his goal brilliantly. His first touch was decent, and his powerful low finish through the goalkeeper’s legs was perfect.
McClean still had a lot to do when he collected Hoolahan’s pass on the edge of the box, but the 28 year old made the finish look easy.
The goal brings McClean’s tally to three in two games for Ireland, after his impressive brace in Moldova last time out.
Ireland needed goalscorers to step up after Robbie Keane’s retirement, and the current injuries to Shane Long and Daryl Murphy, and the West Brom winger has shouldered that responsibility.
What is wrong with Austria?
Austria were being tipped by many pundits as one of the potential dark horses before Euro 2016. Then they performed horribly at the tournament, and finished bottom of a group which contained Hungary, Iceland and Portugal.
Marcel Koller’s team look devoid of confidence since then, and are in real danger of missing out on a place at the 2018 World Cup.
The Austrian’s have a strong team on paper. David Alaba is a star player for Bayern Munich, and Julian Baumgartlinger bossed the midfield in Bayer Leverkusen’s recent 1-0 win over Spurs in Wembley.
Marko Arnautovic and Kevin Wimmer are Premier League players, and Christian Fuchs plays with the reigning English champions.
Fuchs didn’t play on Saturday, but those other players are performing nowhere near the best, and the whole Austrian team seemed to lose confidence and impetus after failing to score after good early pressure.
Koller needs to arrest the slump, or will find himself without a job sooner rather than later.
Wes Hoolahan has to start
Wes Hoolahan was uncharacteristically sloppy in possession in the first 25 minutes in Vienna. Austria started strongly, and Ireland were pegged deep in their own half for the majority of the opening 20 minutes. Hoolahan was caught dallying in possession on a few occasions, and couldn’t escape the attentions of Julian Baumgartlinger.
However, the Norwich player showed his ability and creativity as the game progressed. His beautiful flick set up Robbie Brady to whip in a brilliant cross in the first half, which Walters really should have converted.
Hoolahan popped up in the box to tee up teammates on several occasions in the second half. He rolled balls back to Walters and McClean, but neither was able to capitalize on their respective chances.
Hoolahan’s assist for the goal alone justified his inclusion in the starting eleven. The timing and weight of pass was perfect for the onrushing McClean, though the pass wasn’t as easy as the 34 year old made it look.
Wes’ creativity is key to Ireland’s good play, and the former Airtricity player should be one of the first names on the teamsheet.
Arter finally makes his competitive debut
Harry Arter finally made his competitive debut for Ireland in Vienna, and produced a solid performance in a difficult match.
The 26 year old was a peripheral figure for the first half hour or so, but grew into the game the longer it progressed.
We didn’t get to see the Bournemouth midfielder at his creative best, but he showed discipline, hunger and tidy feet throughout the clash.
He was clever in possession, and drew some clever fouls to relieve Austrian pressure in the second half. He put in some excellent tackles, and recycled the ball well.
It will be interesting to see whether James McCarthy or Glenn Whelan have to content themselves with a place on the bench when they return from injury.
Thankfully, Arter’s debut means that the nonsensical rumours about him wanting to declare for England can finally be put to bed.
Ireland are in a great position to qualify
The win over Austria marks the first time the boys in green have beaten a higher ranked opposition away from home since FIFA rankings began.
The win, combined with Wales’ 1-1 home draw with Serbia, means that Ireland sit atop Group D with 10 points from four matches.
Ireland are two points clear of Serbia, four clear of Wales, and six clear of Austria.
Four of Ireland’s remaining games are at home, and Martin O’Neill’s men face trips to Georgia and Wales.
Next up is the visit of Wales, but the pressure will be on Chris Coleman’s side, which could suit Ireland.
It has been an excellent start to the qualifying campaign, and Ireland will enter 2017 as the Group D leaders.