Long Story Short – Shane Needs To Find His Scoring Boots

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Shane Long Republic of Ireland

The three points are in the bag and the scene is all set for the showdown with Wales in Cardiff on Monday night. However, one of the talking points of Friday’s 2-0 win over Moldova will be who should lead the attack for the crunch tie in just a few days time. It will be a tough decision, which manager Martin O’Neill will have to consider in the next few days.

On one hand, he has Daryl Murphy, who before this match had only 1 goal in 29 caps but scored two within the first 20 minutes. On the other hand, he has Shane Long, with his quick pace and who was considered reliable in front of goal. However, the Southampton striker has not scored in 24 games for club and country and has only one goal to his name in qualifying (the reverse of Friday night’s fixture).

Long was once again leaving the field a frustrated figure. He had opportunities to put the Boys in Green further ahead on a number of occasions. His best opportunity came in the 61st minute. After a terrific build-up of play from Wes Hoolahan, who really should have taken an effort on goal himself, Long took a crack but his effort just crept wide. The cries from the stands and the shake of the head from the manager were a sign that he really should have hit the back of the net.

It was a night to remember for Murphy though. The Nottingham Forrest man was deservedly named Man of the Match for his two splendid goals. Anyone within the Aviva Stadium could see that he was desperate to complete his hat-trick. Murphy was in a sombre mood when pictured after being named Man of the Match sitting on the bench. All could tell he wanted to stay on the pitch and score another goal. However, he could possibly have a bigger date with destiny and an important goal in him for Monday night against the Welsh.

Another name that could be in contention for the crucial game on Monday and would cause a shock is that of Sean Maguire. The Preston North End striker and former Cork City man came onto the pitch for the last ten minutes of the game. The reception from the home fans when he came onto the pitch was remarkable. It was close to the equivalent of one of the goals scored and he has caught the imagination of the Irish supporters. Especially at a time when we are in need of a constant threat in front of goal.

With James McClean set to return from suspension and David McGoldrick a possibility despite a niggling injury, Long may well be reduced to a substitute in such a critical fixture. It would be a bold move by O’Neill but it could perhaps be the one needed to secure the Republic of Ireland a place in a World Cup for the first time in 16 years.

REP. OF IRELAND: Randolph, Christie, Clark, Duffy, Ward, Hendrick, Meyler (C), Hoolahan (McGeady 78′), S. Long (Maguire 82′), Murphy (Arter 78′), O’Dowda

Substitutes: Doyle, Elliot, O’Shea, Keogh, Whelan, O’Kane, Hourihane, Hogan, K. Long
Goals: Murphy (2′, 19′)
Yellow Cards: Arter (91′)

Moldova: Cebanu, Racu, Epureanu (C), Ionita, Gatcan, Dedov (Cociuc 54′), Ginsari, Bordian, Platica (Ambros 79′), Anton, Rozgoniuc

Substitutes: Koselev, S. Pascenco, Graur, Antoniuc, Cojocari, A. Pascenco, Ojog
Yellow Cards: Rozgoniuc (41′)
Red Cards: Gatcan (92′)

Referee: Bas Nijhuis (NED)

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Ireland need to focus on winning mentality

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Aiden McGeady

Writing in his pre-match notes, Republic of Ireland manager, Martin O’Neill was clear that despite the numerous absentees from the Austrian squad that this match was going to be tough. The manager was also cooling the talk in the build-up to the match that a win in this game could allow the start of talk of booking the flight to Russia. “We have reached the half-way stage in our Group, so there are still a lot of points to play for, as you would expect. It has been a tough road so far and that will remain so until the last qualifying game,” said O’Neill.

Surely even the Irish manager didn’t expect his team to perform so poorly for most of the game against a weakened side. The Boys in Green started with a 4-2-3-1 formation with Jonathan Walters the lone striker. The layout of the team was a head-scratcher and questions will be asked of why O’Neill decided to start with two defending midfielders rather than go out with a more attacking intent.

The visitors, with their depleted side, emphasised an attacking approach lining out with a 4-3-3 formation and hoping to pile on the pressure on the home side. They did just that. The Irish were hopeless for the first half. Despite a better passing accuracy than the Austrians, the Irish just could not move the ball about and did not seem up for the match as a whole. Robbie Brady seemed disinterested and Shane Duffy unable to connect a pass from out of the back.

The home side’s formation choice didn’t last and was switched to a 4-4-2 with McClean joining Walters up front. This gave the Austrian defence a bit of trouble but the Irish passing or the lack thereof, gave little worry to the Austrians and it wasn’t until the last quarter of the game did the Irish turn up the attacking pressure on their visitors. It did pay off with five minutes to go as Walters gave it is all to beat a defender from a Brady long ball and slotted it into the bottom right hand of the goal. The Irish could and probably should have won it from there. Less than two minutes later, Shane Duffy’s head connected with the ball and it ended up in the back of the net. However, it was ruled a foul on an Austrian defender who ended up in the bottom of the net along with the ball. It was big call and the Irish will be frustrated by the decision. There was also another big decision with a potential penalty after it seemed as if Walters was tripped in the box by a defender. It was a soft challenge but it could have easily been ruled as a penalty any other day.

A real question needs to be asked though. After such a big build up to the game and the hope of three important points in the bag, do the Republic of Ireland have a problem with mentality when labeled as favourites? One only has to draw on the memories of the infamous 0-0 draw away to Liechtenstein over 20 years ago. Ireland was ninth in the world at the time and they were expected to stroll to an easy win against the minnows. Yet they left the small Central European nation with a point, something which was a major set back in the qualifiers for Euro ’96 which we ultimately did not qualify for.

However, fans and journalists alike need to look at the whole picture. The season has just ended with many of the players focused on the survival of relegation or promotion pushes. I can appreciate their willingness to focus on club careers. At the end of the day it is, it is the clubs who pay big money to ensure the players perform to the best of their ability week in and week out. However, you would like to see the players cap off their season with a strong performance for their International side especially after such a strong start to the group. Austria was there for the taking even missing defender Andreas Ulmer who decided to get married instead of helping his nation to a possible victory. That was the kind of thing Ireland should have jumped upon and ensured a strong narrative in the group moving towards the latter stages of qualifying.

An old Roy Keane quote came to mind after the Republic’s controversial loss to France in the 2010 World Cup playoff. “France were there for the taking and Ireland didn’t do it. Same old story,” said Keane, then manager of Ipswich Town. “I’d focus on why they didn’t clear it. I’d be more annoyed with my defenders and my goalkeeper than Thierry Henry. How can you let the ball bounce in your six-yard box? How can you let Thierry Henry get goal-side of you? If the ball goes into the six-yard box, where the hell is my goalkeeper?” I wonder if this will be ringing in Keane’s mind watching back on the Austrian goal. A strike from Martin Hinteregger after a ball from a David Alaba corner.

In his post-match comments, O’Neill made light to the fact that the corner was a result of a move that started from an Austrian handball, Dragović the culprit. While almost everyone in the Aviva would agree that it was a handball by the defender. Surely, the Irish should have cleared the ball or have done a better job at marking during an attacking set piece? I am sure the management will, of course, look at this behind closed doors and will analyse the goal in the aftermath of the game but it is a tad egregious to blame the refereeing for the goal, despite the referee having a poor game.

However, there were some standout players in the match for the home side. Both Jonathan Walters and James McClean paced around the pitch looking for the right pass or attempting to get into some space to create a movement. The Stoke City man, in particular, was allowed little opportunity to create much for most of the game, being marked tightly by Bayer Leverkusen’s Aleksandar Dragović. McClean also had a moment to equalise the game with ten minutes remaining but hit the ball first time and striking it high and wide.

Kevin Long also had a fine first start in central defence and he will be hoping to cause a selection headache for his manager when selecting the sides for the next set of games in September. O’Neill was impressed with the former Cork City player’s handling of the pressure of being selected for such an important fixture.

The result will no doubt be welcomed by the Serbians, who kick-off later in evening against Wales, who themselves desperately need a result to keep their World Cup dreams alive ahead of a home fixture against the Austrians in September.

The Irish will now be keeping a close eye on the fixture this evening with O’Neill, Keane and the rest of the Irish management going back to the drawing board in the morning to study what Ireland need to fix ahead of the last four remaining fixtures of this qualifying stage. A little bit of encouragement and belief that this squad can qualify for its first World Cup in 16 years will no doubt help but as the manager suggested in his pre-match notes there a long road ahead with points to be won and lost by all the sides in this group. Hopefully, for Ireland’s sake and those who follow the Boys in Green, there is more won than lost.

REP. OF IRELAND: Randolph, Christie, Long, Duffy, Ward (Murphy 55′), Brady, Whelan (C) (McGeady 77′), Hendrick, Arter (Hoolahan 71′), McClean, Walters

Substitutes: Westwood, Doyle, Pearce, O’Shea, Keogh, O’Kane, Horgan, Hourihane, Hayes
Goals: Walters (85′)
Yellow Cards: Brady (29′), Christie (32′)

Austria: Lindner, Lainer, Dragović, Prödl, Hinteregger, Baumgartlinger, Junuzović (Grillitsch 79′), Alaba, Lazaro, Burgstaller (Harnik 75′), Kainz (Gregoritsch 90′)

Substitutes: Bachmann, Kuster, Wimmer, Laimer, Stangl, Schaub, Klein, Danso, Alar
Goals: Hinteregger (31′)

Referee: David Fernández Borbalan (ESP)

 

Elliot Injury Sours O’Neill’s Night

Republic of Ireland Team
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The Republic of Ireland shared the spoils with their Slovakian visitors on a night that was overshadowed by what looks like a season-ending injury to Newcastle Untied goalkeeper Rob Elliot and denting his chances of a place in the Irish squad heading to France this summer. The Slovakians kept the hosts busy throughout the game. However, star player Marek Hamšík had a quiet night in Dublin in front of a quiet Aviva Stadium, which included Wales (Slovakia’s Euro 2016 Group B opponents) manager, Chris Coleman among those in attendance.

It was an entertaining first half for the 30,00o plus who travelled to the Aviva Stadium with four goals in the first 45 minutes. It was the Slovakians who went ahead thanks to an error from Paul McShane, the first of many on a bad night for the Reading defender. His mistimed header on the half way line landed at the feet of Erik Sabo, who launched down the right wing and worked his way into the box. His pass made it to Miroslav Stoch, who was unmarked and with a first touch slotted it past Rob Elliot. The Newcastle ‘keeper looked to have landed awkwardly when coming down from the attempted save.

Commenting on the injury after the match, O’Neill said that the early prognosis was knee ligament damage and that it was a huge blow to the player after rebuilding his career and confidence. He wouldn’t be drawn on speculation that the injury will bring an early end to Elliot’s season.

Two penalties in the space of two minutes, helped bring the Irish back into the game. Firstly, goalkeeper, Matus Kozáčik brought Shane Long down near the touchline with the keeper softly catching the striker on the foot. Long slotted home the penalty without haste. Not much time passed before Long burst into the area again, only for captain Martin Škrtel to bring down the Southampton striker in the area. Arguably, another soft penalty given by the referee. This time it was James McClean, who stood up and scored to put The Boys in Green in the lead.

The game started to settle and there was pressure created from both sides. Sabo added to his assist with a yellow card after a pair of late challenges on James McCarthy and Glenn Whelan. The latter having to pull away the angered Everton midfielder from the Slovakian winger.

Then as half time approached, the visitors were allowed back into the game. Peter Pekarík broke into space on the edge of the right hand side of the box. He chipped the ball before it managed to cross the line to Robert Vittek who headed it down towards goal. The ball took a detour off McShane’s chest and slipped past substitute keeper, Darren Randolph. Speaking after the game, O’Neill felt that Vittek had used his fist to guide the ball.

The game fizzled out in the second half with the tempo of both sides dropping. With the substitution of Long at half time – this gave O’Neill the liberty to play around with the team in terms of shape and test out different players. While this game may not be remembered from a fan’s point of view, it will certainly help shape the formation of the 23 man squad that will represent the Republic of Ireland at the European Championships this summer.

REP. OF IRELAND: Elliot (Randolph 15′), McShane, O’Shea (C) (Pearce 45′), Whelan, McCarthy, Long (Brady 45′), McClean, Christie, Ward (Hayes 78′), Hoolahan (McGeady 72′), O’Kane (Pilkington 66′)

Substitutes: Forde, Coleman, Keogh, Meyler, Quinn, Clark, Gleeson, Duffy, Judge, Doherty
Goals: Long (21′), McClean (23′)
Yellow Cards: McClean (66′)

Slovakia: Kozáčik, Pekarík, Škrtel (C), Greguš (Hrošovský 74′), Šesták (Weiss 63′), Stoch (Mak 63′), Vittek (Nemec 63′), Sabo (Duda 63′), Saláta, Hamšík, Švento (Tesák 88′)

Substitutes: Mucha, Dúbravka, Ďurica, Tesák, Hubočan, Ďuriš
Goals:  Stoch (13′), McShane (OG 45′)
Yellow Cards: Sabo (31′), Pekarík (63′), Greguš (70′)

Referee: Ola Ober Nielsen (NOR)

Scotland break Irish hearts in Dublin

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Robbie Brady

The tame boos from the Irish fans were sounded out by the deafening cheers of the Scottish contingent at the final whistle at the Aviva Stadium as the visitors put a huge dent into Republic of Ireland’s hopes of qualifying for next summer’s European Championship in France. After dominating the first half, a lapse in concentration handed a priceless draw and point to Scotland in Group D.

The first half was fast paced with both teams starting brightly. The Irish were the first to have a crack at goal, after just two minutes, with Jeff Hendrick’s cross attempt collected by David Marshall.

The Scots followed two minutes later with their first effort. Stoke defender, Marc Wilson mistimed his pass to Jeff Hendrick and the ball was picked up by James Morrison. The Scottish midfielder worked his way up the pitch before passing to Steven Naismith. The Everton man’s attempt went across the box and ultimately wide.

The Scot’s best effort in the first half came from Steven Fletcher after just 10 minutes. The striker had the ball from about 20 yards out and hit it with some power that it forced Republic of Ireland keeper, Shay Given to stretch high and use the tips of his fingers to guide the ball over the crossbar.

Tempers flared at times. The game was hardly 10 minutes old, when James McCarthy went in hard on Scotland captain, Scott Brown. The latter was unimpressed by the younger midfielder’s antics and he wasn’t shy to express those feelings. Nonetheless, McCarthy escaped any punishment from the referee and was let off with a warning.

Glenn Whelan followed soon after. However, this time the yellow card was shown by the referee. The Stoke man caught Fletcher with a late standing tackle. McCarthy was again involved in a fracas and was punished accordingly, with a yellow card, after throwing an elbow into the face of Russell Martin. The Scottish defender was left with a cut on the bridge of his nose.

Then came the moment Irish fans were hoping for. After Marshall tipped over a Daryl Murphy header, Robbie Brady swung in the resulting corner. Again it met the head of Murphy. This time his effort landed straight at Marshall who could only parry the effort. The ball landed right at the feet of Jon Walters. The Irish forward only had to tap the ball into the net. He precisely did so and put the Boys in Green ahead just before the break.

The lead wasn’t to last long though. Scotland equalised just after the restart. Shaun Maloney played a lovely one-two with half time substitute Ikechi Anya in the box. Maloney then attempted to the curl the ball to the bottom left of the goal. The ball deflected off Irish captain John O’Shea and sailed past Given. The goal stunned the home fans as they had seen their team throw away a deserved lead.

The game then went full speed as both teams looked for the winner. The Scottish seemed to hold on the ball that bit better than the Irish. They constantly pushed forward at every opportunity that was afforded to them.

The Irish on the other hand, failed to use their opportunities. Robbie Brady, in particular, was poor with his crosses. The Hull City man hit some of them high and wide, especially at points in the game when the team needed balls delivered accurately into the box.

Ireland had a good opportunity on the 75th minute when substitute Robbie Keane got the ball and dummied the Scottish defence, leaving space open to fire a shot. He put a lot of power and accuracy behind the effort. Unfortunately, the ball went straight into the hands of Marshall.

Another Republic of Ireland substitute, James McClean also had a good chance to put the Irish ahead again, from a corner. The Derry man, worked to get the space and put himself high to meet Brady’s ball. However, while the effort connected, the ball went wide off the upright.

McClean was also part of one of the last significant incidents of the game. The Wigan Athletic midfielder, unimpressed with a decision given against his side, got into a war of words with Steven Naismith. It appeared as if McClean grazed his head against Naismith’s. The referee came over to separate the two and gave a yellow card to each player for their troubles.

Speaking after the game, Republic of Ireland manager, Martin O’Neill expressed his disappointed with conceding the equaliser to Scotland. However, he stressed that his side are still in with a chance of qualifying for next summer’s tournament in France.

“I thought we were very dominant in the first half. We deserved to be in front. We absolutely fell asleep for the [equalising] goal even though it was going miles wide. Just after half time, we should have closed it down on three different occasions. I thought Scotland got a big lift from that. I thought their best spell was after that, for 10 minutes. I thought we pulled ourselves round and I thought we were going to win it in the end. We didn’t and I am obviously disappointed not to have won,” said O’Neill.

The manager also looked back on his 18 months in charge and is happy with how things have been going for the Boys in Green. “There are a number of players coming through, which, I’m obviously delighted with. However, let us see where we are at the end of the campaign,” O’Neill concluded.

Scotland manager Gordon Strachan, lamented his side’s second half performance, which helped them secure a point in Dublin.

“For all you say about systems, we couldn’t get ours working. Whether it’s through Ireland pressing, the physical strength. They are a big team. Maybe that stopped us or maybe it was our lack of match fitness. So, we took a look at it at half time and we moved a couple of people about. We never had a chance to see if our system worked. All I know is, a very good player [Maloney] scored a wonderful goal again. A very good player has got us a point,” said the Scottish manager.

Strachan was also impressed by the intensity of match considering it was at the end of the season. He also wouldn’t comment on the group standing saying that “you never know what the points are going to be to get you to qualify.” The Scottish manager, to the amusement of the Irish press, congratulated the referee on his performance and said he was “terrific the whole game” and he helped add intensity to the game.

The Republic of Ireland now have a real fight on their hands to make the Euro finals next summer. They currently sit in fourth place, three points behind today’s visitors. They will travel to Gibraltar next, in early September, followed by a home fixture against Georgia.

Scotland, on the other hand, will face Georgia away, followed by a home fixture in Hampden Park against World champions, Germany, 3 days later. They now sit second in Group D, a point ahead of Germany, who have a game in hand against Gibraltar.

REPUBLIC OF IRELAND: Given, Coleman, Wilson, O’Shea (C), Brady, Hendrick, Whelan (McClean 67′), McCarthy, Hoolahan (Keane 73′) , Walters, Murphy (Long 80′)

Substitutes: Forde, Westwood, Keogh, McGeady, Meyler, Christie, Ward, Quinn, McGoldrick

Goals: Walters (38′)
Yellow Cards: Whelan (19′), McCarthy (30′), McClean (88′)

SCOTLAND: Marshall, Hutton, Martin, Mulgrew, Forsyth, Ritchie (Anya 45′), Brown (C) (McArthur 84′), Morrison, Naismith (Berra 91′), Maloney, S.Fletcher

Substitutes: Gordon, Samson, Whittaker, D.Fletcher, Adam, Greer, Robertson, Forrest, Griffiths

Goals: O’Shea (OG 46′)
Yellow Cards: Naismith (88′)

Referee: Nicola Rizzoli (Italy)

Boys in Green impress against Team USA

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Robbie Brady

Original article appears on Pundit Arena.

The Republic of Ireland put their Euro 2016 qualifier defeat behind them with a fine 4-1 victory over the USA in the Aviva Stadium on Tuesday night. Two goals from Robbie Brady and a goal each for Anthony Pilkington and James McClean helped the Irish overcome an attacking American side, who were inadequate in front of goal.

On what was a cold and windy night at the Lansdowne Road venue, Ireland manager, Martin O’Neill made a clean sweep and put out an entirely different starting eleven compared to the team that lost to Scotland last Friday. Debuts were handed to Cyrus Christie at right back, while, David McGoldrick partnered his Ipswich Town teammate, Daryl Murphy up front.

The Boys in Green got off to a great start when McGoldrick played a lovely through ball to Anthony Pilkington. The Cardiff City midfielder completed the move a lovely chip over the keeper with the ball resting at the back of the net and earning him his first international goal. 1-0 Ireland in the opening ten minutes.

Team USA didn’t falter though. They consistently attacked the Irish end and their offense paid off just before half time. A poor attempted pass by Irish captain David Meyler was picked up by the Americans and played into the box. An attempted clearance landed to USA captain, Jozy Altidore, whose cross was met by the head of Chris Wondolowski. The header was met by Mix Dsikerud with the Rosenborg midfielder rising up to slot the ball past Shay Given.

Altidore could have put his side into the lead just before the stroke of half time when his shot crashed off the crossbar and went over. However, the first half ended with the sides all square with the Irish on the back foot in the latter of the half.

However, Ireland came out to second have rejuvenated. They upped the tempo in their game and went on the attack. Cyrus Christie sent a fine pass up the flank to Pilkington. However, Daryl Murphy couldn’t connect to his cross and it went out of play.

It wasn’t long after when Man of the Match, Robbie Brady got his first goal of the game. The Hull City midfielder played a nice one-two with McGoldrick and his shot went passed USA keeper, Hamid. It was the newcomer’s second assist of the game, not a bad way to cap off your international debut.

The game went back and forth with attempts at both ends with the American finishing leaving a lot to be desired. However, James McClean, who replaced Pilkington mid way through the second half, got Ireland’s third goal after collecting the ball on the edge of the box. With the crowd shouting for him to shoot, McClean obliged. His shot deflected off Geoff Cameron, sending the keeper the wrong way.

Brady completed the scoring with less than five minutes to go. His free kick curling into the top left hand corner of the goal. It was a lovely goal that topped off a solid Irish performance.

Speaking after the game, manager Martin O’Neill was pleased with the result, saying, “It was nice to win the game. I thought it was a bit tentative in the first half. We scored from our first proper attack of the game, a great through ball by David McGoldrick and Pilkington took it well. I thought America really came into the game then and probably deserved their equaliser. I thought the second half performance was really terrific. To score the goals that we did was astounding.“

With a good victory and display behind them, the Republic of Ireland squad can look ahead to the next match, a visiting Polish side. O’Neill was pleased with his squad’s response to the Scotland defeat but they need to bring a display, like that in the second half, with them in March of next year when they host the Group D leaders.

REPUBLIC OF IRELAND: Given (Elliot ’85), Christie, Pearce, Clark, Meyler (C), Quinn, Brady, Pilkington (McClean ’62), Murphy (Hendrick ’77), McGoldrick (Long ’77), Stokes (McGeady 60′)

Substitutes: Randolph, Keogh, Coleman, O’Shea, Walters
Goals: Pilkington (7′), Brady (56′, 87′), McClean (’82)
Yellow CardsMcGeady (90′), Meyler (93′)

USA: Hamid, Morales (Garza ’65), Besler, Diskerud, Bedoya, Beckerman (Ream ’87), Alitdore (C) (Rubin ’76), Wondolowski (Wood 45′), Cameron, Chandler (Morris ’76), F.Johnson

Substitutes: S.Johnson,Ibarra, Green
Goals: Diskerud (39′)
Yellow Cards: Beckerman (37′), Altidore (66′), Cameron (85′)

Referee: Pawel Raczkowski (Poland)

Man of the Match: Robbie Brady

Republic of Ireland run riot in the Aviva

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Republic of IrelandOriginal article appears on Pundit Arena.

It was over before it began with the Republic of Ireland tearing apart Gibraltar 7-0 at the Aviva Stadium. It was a good days work for Robbie Keane in particular. The evergreen captain was on fine form as he scored a hat trick in just 18 minutes against the minnows. Goals from James McClean, Wes Hoolahan and a bizarre own goal from Gibraltar keeper, Jordan Perez sealed the victory for the Irish.

Manager Martin O’Neill, had warned against complacency in the build up to this game and his team didn’t disappoint in the opening exchanges with the Irish racking up 50 passes in just under five minutes. The Irish piled the pressure on the Gibraltar defence and they were rewarded for their positive start on the sixth minute when Man of the Match, Wes Hoolahan hit a long ball to Aiden McGeady on the edge of the right side of the box. The Everton winger laid it to Keane who had no problem putting the ball in the back of the net and starting off the evening’s proceedings.

Hoolahan was involved again in the build up to the second and third goal to set up Keane to earn his 64th and 65th goals respectively. The Norwich City man took a lofted pass on to his chest before passing the ball through for Keane’s run, who slotted home past Perez. Minutes later, Perez clattered into Hoolahan after failing to clear a shot efficiently. Keane stepped up and the hat trick was complete.

With those three goals, Keane now becomes the top scorer in European Championship qualifying history at 21 goals and now stands 12th in the overall international scorers list on 65 goals with Didier Drogba.

Hoolahan wasn’t to be denied a goal though after a wonderful performance. On the 56th minute, Keane laid the ball into his path. After skipping through an awful defence, he capped off the move with an easy, low shot to the near post that went past Perez.

O’Neill was happy with Hoolahan’s contribution in the game. “Wes did very, very well. Wes here at the Aviva has never failed to play well and he is good, particularly in a night like this here when we are looking for that little bit of craft to break defences down,” said the Irish manager.

The Gibraltar keeper, Perez, was already having a bad day before a sensational own goal added salt to the wound. Robbie Keane’s attempted chip was batted away by the keeper with the ball landing to McGeady. The midfielder’s shot bounced back from defender on the line with the ball. The ball landed at the feet of Perez, who, one can only presume, tried to clear the ball but instead hoofed it into his own net. I had to look around and make sure I was at the Aviva and not at home playing a game of FIFA.

After conceding two more goals, McClean’s second of the night and Hoolahan’s goal, Perez was hauled off by manager Allen Bula. The entire crowd at the Aviva were on its feet as the hapless keeper made his way off.

The Irish will unquestionably be satisfied with this win ahead of their visit to Germany on Tuesday night. However, all eyes will now be on that trip. There were many positives in the game but there were also glimpses in the game that showed the home side lacking concentration especially in the latter part of the game when Gibraltar were unlucky to at least come away from this game with a goal. Do this against the Germans and it could be the Irish that end up on the wrong side of a mauling.

REPUBLIC OF IRELAND: Forde, Ward (Brady 69’), Wilson, O’Shea, Meyler, McGeady, Hendrick, Gibson, McClean, Hoolahan (Doyle 63’), Keane (C) (Murphy 63’)

Substitutes: Elliot, Westwood, Clark, Whelan, Long, Pilkington, Stokes, Quinn, Walters
Goals: Keane (6’, 14’, 18’), McClean (46’, 53’), Perez OG (52’), Hoolahan (56’)

GIBRALTAR: J.Perez (Robba 59’), Wiseman, R.Casciaro, R.Chipolina (C) (Santos 57’), J.Chipolina, Payas, B.Perez, Bado (Guilling 45’), Walker, Gosling, L.Casciaro

Substitutes: Coleing, Artell, K.Casciaro, Lopez, Sergeant, Priestley, Bosio, Garcia, Hernandez

Referee: Leontios Trattou (Cyprus)

Man of the Match: Wes Hoolahan

Comfortable victory for Ireland as focus shifts towards Georgia

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Republic of Ireland team celebrateOriginal article appears on Pundit Arena.

The Republic of Ireland started the new season on the right foot as they defeated Oman 2-0 in the final friendly game ahead of Sunday’s Euro 2016 qualifier against Georgia. However, Ireland manager, Martin O’Neill will be questioning why his squad could not put away more of the chances that were handed to his side throughout the 90 minutes.

Wednesday night saw a weakened starting XI with some of the key members of the squad left on the bench ahead of the test that awaits them in Tbilisi this weekend. However, there was a return for Everton’s Darron Gibson made a return to Aviva after being out of the squad for the last 10 months due to a mixture of injury and being disheartened by former manager Giovanni Trapattoni.

The ‘Boys in Green’ started brightly in the opening exchanges as they pressed forward in search of an early goal. However, the Oman defence packed into the box and swatted off any attack on their goal. The Irish then drifted off as Oman went on the attack. An attempted pass by Stephen Quinn was blocked by referee, Illias Spathas, and Raed Saleh picked up the loose ball and paced down the wing and onto the edge of the box. He laid the ball off to Mohammed Al Siyabi, who struck it poorly and went wide of the returning Shay Given.

The first half was marred by some sloppy play by the Irish including a back pass by Robbie Brady to Given that went out of play for a corner. There were plenty of mistimed passes made by the Irish that would have gone punished if against sterner opponents, something that O’Neill must work on ahead of the forthcoming fixtures.

However, the Republic’s game improved slightly after the 19th minute when Brady whipped in a corner that was met by Kevin Doyle. His header sailed passed Wigan Athletic keeper Ali Al Habsi and into the back of the net. The Crystal Palace man marked his 60th game in the green jersey with his 14th international goal.

There were a few more chances in between but nothing could hit the target. The best chance to put the Irish further ahead, lay to David Meyler after Brady’s cross was punched away by Al Habsi and landed at the Hull City man’s feet. His chip bounced off the upright and back into play but was cleared by the Oman defence.

The second half started much like the first ended. However, the pace picked up when the trio of Robbie Keane, Shane Long and Aiden McGeady came on in the 58th minute and gave the Irish the boost it needed. McGeady had a great opportunity to double the Irish lead, 20 minutes into the second period, but the Everton midfielder’s attempt was cleared off the line by Mohammed Al Musalami.

The attacks didn’t stop and the Irish piled on the pressure but the finishing left a lot to be desired. However, on the 81st minute, Brady’s corner was met by captain of the night, Richard Keogh, his slight tap landed to Alex Pearce and the Reading man slotted home a soft shot past Oman’s keeper.

Oman had a few chances as well but their best effort was a long through ball by Hussain Al Hadhri to Saad Al Mukhaini, which was collected by substitute keeper Rob Elliot, who replaced Given for the second half.

After the game, O’Neill commented on the performance and was happy with the win for his squad. “We needed the game and it was nice to win. We would have liked to been further ahead by half time and got the second goal earlier but we played some nice football. My concern would be that when we made a few good passes but it ended with the ball going backwards,” said O’Neill.

O’Neill also comment on the team he had for Sunday with Joey O’Brien and now, James McClean both ruled out of the clash with Georgia through injury. “I was concerned that Joey O’Brien had to go and James McClean is out now too. My concern with James is that he has not had enough game time at Wigan. I want to give him a chance to get ready for later games and not worsen the injury.”

The Ireland manager also admitted he was looking forward to the campaign and mentioned that confidence was high in the camp. “It’s a long road ahead,” claimed O’Neill, “However, we will be ready for it. We won the game tonight and took confidence from it. There was no confidence lost during the summer games. We have only one thing in mind and that is to prepare as best as possible for Sunday.”

With the 4 games before the end of the year, 3 of them away including a trip to World Cup winners Germany, O’Neill and Keane will be happy with tonight’s result but know that there will need to be some improvements ahead of Sunday evening’s game against the Georgians.

REPUBLIC OF IRELAND: Given (Elliot 46’), Meyler (Murphy 85’), Keogh (C), Pearce, Ward, Pilkington (McGeady 58’), Gibson (Whelan 69’), Quinn, Brady, Hoolahan (Keane 58’), Doyle (Long 58’).
Substitutes: Forde, Wilson, Coleman, O’Shea, Stokes.
Goals: Doyle 19’, Pearce 81’
Yellow Cards: Gibson 68’

OMAN: Al Habsi (C), S Al Mukhani, A Al Mukhani, Al Ghailani (Al Busaidi 58’), Al Owaisi, Al Musalani, Al Muhaijri (Al Jabri 58’), Al Farsi (Al Muqbali 80’), Saleh (Al Mashari 86’), Al Siyani, Hardan (Al Qasmi 58’)
Substitutes: Al Rushidi, Al Zaabi, Al Nahar, Al Jalbobi, Al Hadhri, Al Ihsi, Almashari.

Referee: Illias Spathas (Greece)

Man of the Match: David Meyler