Daryl Murphy double keeps alive Irish hopes of World Cup qualification
World Cup 2018 Qualifying Group D: Republic of Ireland 2 Moldova 0
IT was a case of job done for the Republic of Ireland as they eased past Moldova – and can now turn their attention to Monday night’s make-or-break showdown with Wales in Cardiff.
The permutations for the eight available World Cup play-off berths are still many – but the immediate equation for the Republic couldn’t be any simpler: They need to beat Wales otherwise their World Cup dream will be over.
Serbia’s 3-2 slip-up to Austria last night means that top spot, and automatic qualification, is still up for grabs in Group D – but the Serbs should clinch the deal at home to Georgia on Monday night.
Before a ball was kicked in Dublin last night news had filtered through that Wales were still in the box seat to finish ahead of Ireland after their gutsy 1-0 win in Tbilisi.
A draw will be enough for the Welsh to eliminate the Republic in two days’ time.
Undoubtedly, Martin O’Neill’s men will need the spirit of Lille to keep their World Cup hopes alive on Monday night in what is one of the biggest qualification games in Ireland’s recent history.
A first half double from Daryl Murphy was enough to bank the three points against Moldova last night and they can go to Cardiff with some confidence.
The Republic manager, who has signed on for another two years, was without Jonathan Walters (injured), James McClean and Robbie Brady (both suspended) from last month’s 1-0 defeat to Serbia.
Fit-again Jeff Hendrick was drafted into a new-look midfield with David Meyler, captain for the night, holding onto his midfield spot after an excellent showing against the Serbs.
Given the weakness of last night’s opposition, it was no surprise O’Neill opted for two strikers with Daryl Murphy winning his 30th cap alongside Shane Long.
O’Neill’s glowing appraisal of Callum O’Dowda in the build-up to last night’s must-win clash was borne out by the 22-year-old Bristol City winger winning his first competitive start for the Republic.
Thoughts of Wales’ 1-0 win in Tbilisi were shelved as the Republic raced out of the traps and went in front from their first meaningful attack in the second minute.
Central defenders Shane Duffy and Ciaran Clark caused enough of a distraction to edge Stephen Ward’s long throw in into the path of Murphy who stretched with his left foot to poke the ball beyond visiting keeper Llie Cebanu from close range.
The home side should have doubled their lead after 15 minutes. Fully justifying his inclusion, O’Dowda accelerated beyond the Moldovan defence and picked out Shane Long with a perfect low pass.
But the Southampton striker side-footed the ball wide from 12 yards when it looked easier to score.
Long’s blushes were spared, however, four minutes later when Murphy grabbed his second of the night and his third international goal.
It was a goal of brilliant economy rarely reflected in this Irish team.
Wes Hoolahan’s crossfield pass found Ward down the left flank and the Burnley defender’s back post cross was headed across goal by Murphy.
Cebanu’s lacked the lightness in his step to get to Murphy’s well-directed header as the ball nestled in the corner of his net.
That’s the way it stayed until half-time – but the Republic could easily have bagged a couple more before the interval.
Jeff Hendrick made a driving run down the middle of the pitch before rolling the ball invitingly into Long’s path and while his effort had power the angle was slightly against him, and Moldova survived.
The group minnows had fleeting moments in a very open first 45 minutes. Sergiu Platica unleashed a pile-driver from 25 yards and Darren Randolph had to be on his toes to tip the ball over his crossbar.
With the game in the bag it was predictable last night’s qualifier lost its edge in the second half.
Moldova were given more room to play in the second half – due more to Ireland’s lack of diligence in midfield – but their attacks usually petered out with a harmless cross into Randolph’s arms.
And you know the game as a spectacle has lost the crowd then they started up a few Mexican waves and lit up torches on their mobile phones.
The home supporters were roused momentarily just after the hour mark that resulted in another bad miss for the unfortunate Long.
Hoolahan broke clear of the Moldovan defence and off-balance he ushered the ball onto O’Dowda when a shot looked the better option.
The international rookie scuffed his right-footed effort before the ball squirmed out to Long.
Under pressure and the ball coming at him at an awkward angle, the off-form striker missed the target again, much to the his chagrin.
O’Neill waited until the 78th minute to make changes with Shane Long, Jeff Hendrick and Wes Hoolahan being called ashore in the closing stages, with former Cork City striker Sean Maguire winning his international debut.
A foot-note to last night’s meandering encounter was Alexandru Gatcun’s red card in stoppage-time after he aimed a head-butt at Arter.
It’s on to Cardiff now for the Republic. All is not lost. Not yet, at least.