A Faro old night for Ireland as Scottish stumble
European Championship qualifying Group D
Gibraltar 0 Republic of Ireland 4
A FEW glasses were raised to Georgia in Faro last night even before the Republic of Ireland took to the field against Group D whipping boys Gibraltar.
Robbie Keane (two), Shane Long and Cyrus Christie got the goals for the Irish – but the most important goal was scored earlier in the evening by Valeri Qazaishvili in far-flung Tbilisi that was enough to sink Group D rivals Scotland and put Martin O’Neill’s men firmly right back in the qualification frame.
Once the final whistle sounded in the Georgian capital just before 7pm, the drama was wrapped up for the night as only a bore-fest awaited the 5,393 supporters who were in the Estadio Algarve.
Even the highlights of this clash would be hard to watch.
After taking five points out of six from their two battles with the Irish last season, the Scots were odds-on to finish ahead of the Republic and claim the play-off berth. But the gutsy Georgians changed the complexion of Group D.
The Scots are undoubtedly on the back foot now with world champions Germany rolling into Glasgow on Monday night, while the Irish have a less daunting task at home to Georgia.
Last night, the Republic had very little trouble in banking the three points against a painfully limited Gibraltar side who have now conceded 38 goals in seven matches in Group D.
The Irish have put 11 past them in their two meetings. It took the visitors 26 minutes to break the deadlock. In truth, they never needed to get out of second gear against Gibraltar.
Perhaps it was Georgia’s fine win over the Scots that provided the early impetus for the Republic as they could easily have been four goals up after 12 minutes, but for a combination of some heroic goalkeeping from Jordan Perez and poor finishing.
Robbie Brady’s curling free-kick was palmed away by Perez in the sixth minute. Two minutes later, Jonathan Walters didn’t connect properly and Perez was able to make another save.
Ciaran Clark, winning his 12th cap in place of Marc Wilson, saw his glancing header from Brady’s wicked free-kick come off Gibraltar’s crossbar, while Walters headed home Robbie Keane’s dinked cross in the 10th minute but was ruled off-side.
Despite the misses there was no panic in Irish ranks, mainly because the opposition were so poor and more chances would present themselves.
Desperation was written all over Gibraltar’s defending in the early stages, but just when they looked to have ridden out an Irish storm, rookie international Cyrus Christie cut in from the right flank, drifted past two challenges and found the far corner of the net with a clever poked finish.
In their next attack, the all-action Walters was unlucky with a long-range volley that was tipped over the bar by the alert Perez.
But after the half hour mark, the Republic players switched off and allowed their hosts a couple of attempts at Shay Given’s goal.
In the 36th minute, a criminal amount of space was afforded to Gibraltar's best player Liam Walker whose left-foot drive forced Given into action.
The same player had another speculative effort on Ireland's goal while the visitors had to depend on a last-ditch headed clearance from Christie to prevent Gibraltar skipper Roy Chipolina having a one-on-one with Given.
But that was as good as it got for the hosts. The second half was one-way traffic.
In the 49th minute, Robbie Keane tapped home from a yard out after a driving run and low cross from Walters.
The ball was turned onto Gibraltar’s post by Jean Carlos Garcia and it rolled across the goal-line invitingly for Keane to register his 66th international goal.
Three minutes later, the Republic were three goals up. Wes Hoolahan was tripped in the box by Walker and Keane slide home the spot-kick.
James McCarthy had a fine effort on goal in the 68th minute but Perez saved.
Walters’s whole-hearted performance probably deserved a goal but he couldn’t adjust his feet to tap home at the back post after Hoolahan’s deflected attempt fell to him.
Thrust from the bench and with a point to prove, Shane Long nodded home Ireland’s fourth with 10 minutes remaining from Jeff Hendrick’s cross.
It was job done. With the Scots faltering, Monday night can't come quick enough as the Irish hope to create more daylight between themselves and their Celtic cousins.
Shay Given: 130 international caps and still going strong. The veteran goalkeeper made two handy saves in the first half in an otherwise easy night. 6
Cyrus Christie: Stepped in for the injured Seamus Coleman and did well. Broke the deadlock with a fine individual effort in only his second international appearance. Also defended well and was given a lot of space to push forward. 7
Robbie Brady: Winning his 14th cap, the Norwich City man appears to have nailed down the left back berth. Had oceans of space to attack. Unlucky with an early free-kick and deliveries from set plays were generally good. 6
John O’Shea: Last night was a breeze for the veteran Sunderland defender. Showed good concentration levels throughout and never got by-passed. 6
Ciaran Clark: The in-form Aston Villa centre-back was deputising for Marc Wilson and defended well when called upon. Interesting to see if O’Neill sticks with him for the Georgia clash. 6
Glenn Whelan: The Stoke City midfielder did what he does best. Sat in front of the back four and kept it simple. Had a lacklustre spell just before the break. 6
James McCarthy: Winning his 27th cap last night, the Everton midfielder had a few more gears but didn’t need to use them. Had a couple attempts at goal and forced a good save out of Jordan Perez in the second half. 6
Jeff Hendrick: The Derby County man played in a narrow three-man midfield and showed good feet and passing ability. Set up Shane Long’s goal. Appears to be highly regarded by O’Neill. 6
Wes Hoolahan: Winning only his 21st cap, the 33-year-old played behind front two, Robbie Keane and Jon Walters, and always looked a threat. Won the penalty before his manager saved his legs by withdrawing him with 12 minutes remaining. 7
Jonathan Walters: On another night the Stoke City man could have had a hat-trick. Still, emptied the tank and claimed an assist for Robbie Keane’s opener. Gets the nod for man-of-the-match for effort alone. 7
Robbie Keane: Sits on 67 international goals after grabbing a second half brace last night. Tapped home his first and converted a penalty. Hit the side netting with a first half chance. Did enough to earn a start against Georgia on Monday night. 6
Shane Long: Enjoyed nodding home Ireland’s fourth goal and harried Gibraltar’s back four. 6
Stephen Quinn: Entered the fray for James McCarthy in the 70th minute and was neat and tidy. 5
Aiden McGeady: Badly needed minutes after injury. Had one good chance to score. 5
On another night the Stoke City man could have had a hat-trick. Still, emptied the tank and claimed an assist for Robbie Keane’s opener. Gets the nod for man-of-the-match for effort alone. 7