Ireland drew 1-1 with Austria at the Aviva on Sunday, but will feel that they should have claimed all three points, despite a poor performance.
Jon Walters volleyed home an excellent equalizer five minutes from time after Martin Hinteregger’s tidy finish from a David Alaba corner gave Austria a deserved first half lead. Shane Duffy had a goal controversially ruled out in stoppage time, but both sides were forced to settle for a point.
Here are the main talking points from a mixed night in Dublin.
A game of two halves
Ireland were abysmal in the first half, and Austria’s half time lead was fully justified.
Martin O’Neill opted for a cautious line-up at the Aviva, and Ireland struggled to maintain possession, and rarely threatened until the introduction of Wes Hoolahan and Daryl Murphy in the second half.
Jeff Hendrick was deployed behind Jon Walters, and struggled in an unfamiliar role. Robbie Brady was uncharacteristically quiet, and Walters was often left isolated in attack.
Ireland struggled to maintain possession, and rarely threatened until the introduction of Wes Hoolahan and Daryl Murphy in the second half.
The tide turned in the last 15 minutes when O’Neill’s men cranked up the pressure, and it took some last ditch Austrian defending (and some dodgy decisions) to prevent the home side from snatching all three points.
The boys in green looked a different team with Hoolahan and Murphy on the pitch, and perhaps O’Neill should have included both from the start.
Stephen Ward struggled on the night, and was guilty of letting Hinteregger go for Austria’s goal. Robbie Brady’s move to left back might have come earlier, and it was the Dubliner’s long ball which released Walters for his well-taken volley.
Martin O’Neill’s team selection has drawn a lot of criticism, which is understandable given the impact of the substitutes on the night.
Should Duffy’s goal have stood?
Shane Duffy thought he had won the game for Ireland in the dying seconds. The towering centre half headed in a loose ball from close range, but Spanish refereee David Fernández adjudged that Duffy fouled the Austrian defender on the line.
Austria and Watford defender Sebastien Prodl admitted that the goal should have stood afterwards.
“I would attack in the same way,” he told RTÉ. “I think a British referee wouldn’t have whistled but lucky for us he was a Spanish referee and he gave a foul.”
Duffy, Martin O’Neill, and James McClean all criticized the referee after the game, and deservedly feel hard done by in relation to the disallowed goal.
Competitive debut for Long
Kevin Long must be pinching himself. The Irish centre half made his first Premier League start for Burnley towards the end of the season, and made his first senior international competitive start against Austria at the Aviva.
Long came off the bench in the disappointing friendly defeat by Mexico in New Jersey, and his first start in last weekend’s 3-1 win over Uruguay.
It was a somewhat surprise inclusion given Martin O’Neill’s recent comments, and it was a baptism of fire for the Burnley defender, but he coped reasonably well, and was unlucky to see a header cleared off the line by an Austrian defender.
The 26 year old skipped his brother’s wedding for the game, and did his prospects no harm with a decent display. He will face stiff competition for his place when Richard Keogh and Ciaran Clark return, but he’s proven that he can do a job if called upon in future.
“It’s an honour to represent my country and it has been a brilliant few weeks for me,” he said afterwards.
“To make my debut out in New York and then start my first game last week and then play a competitive fixture this week, it’s what dreams are made of.”
Jon Walters might not be the most stylish of forwards, but his finish against Austria was superb.
The Stoke striker produced a typically unselfish, workmanlike performance up front for Ireland, and was starved of chances for the majority of the game.
Never one to give up on a lost cause, Walters used all of his experience to nudge Dragovic out of the way, but the 33 year old still had a lot to do.
He is known more for his work rate than his finishing, but his powerful low volley left the Austrian goalkeeper with no chance, making a difficult chance look easy.
Two points dropped or one point gained?
While three points would have been a huge step towards qualification, and the performance was disappointing, a draw isn’t a terrible result for the boys in green.
Serbia’s 1-1 draw with Wales means it is as you were in Group D after six games, and Ireland are still “sitting pretty” in the words of Robbie Brady.
Qualification is still very much in Ireland’s hands, and the battle for top spot in the group is likely to go to the wire. Austria remain four points behind Ireland, who still only trail Serbia on goal difference at the summit of the table.
Next up for Ireland is a trip to Georgia, while Wales host Austria in Cardiff.