The Republic of Ireland were favourites to claim all three points ahead of the World Cup Qualifying showdown at the Aviva against an Austrian team missing key players and in a poor run form with manager Marcel Koller seemingly on the way out with reports of tensions in the Austria camp.
Martin O’Neill’s men picked up a valuable win in Vienna in the reverse fixture thanks to James McClean’s fine solo effort which helped put them joint top of the group with Serbia and four points ahead of both Austria and Wales. An Irish win would put them very close to at least a playoff spot.
However, the game followed a familiar pattern of recent competitive home games against qualifying rivals. Ireland started slowly with some sloppy football and too much of an emphasis on long balls up to Walters who was isolated up front on his own. The decision to omit Wes Hoolahan from the starting lineup was a bizarre one which worked against Martin O’Neill.
Martin Hinteregger’s strike in the 31st minute handed the visitors the initiative at the break and they missed chances to double their advantage shortly after the interval.
The introductions of Daryl Murphy and Wes Hoolahan kicked the boys in green to life as they pushed for the equaliser in a chaotic finish as Jonathan Walters rescued what could be a crucial point with a stunning strike in the 85th minute.
Shane Duffy controversially had what looked like a legitimate winner chalked off for a foul as the game finished 1-1. There can be arguments as to whether it was a point gained or two dropped.
We won’t know that until after the final round of fixtures. Let’s have a brief look at Ireland’s run in.
Georgia (away) 2nd September
The Georgians are familiar opponents for Ireland at this stage who will be searching to get back to winning ways after two successive home draws. However, this fixture has a tendency to be a potential banana skin. Ireland usually squeeze past Georgia but the hosts have taken some scalps in Tbilisi before including a 1-0 win over Scotland in qualifying for the Euros. This could be a game where the boys in green may need to dig in and fight for the three points but O’Neill’s men should have enough to get the win here.
Serbia (home) 5th September
After the trip to Tibilsi, Ireland welcome fellow table toppers Serbia to the Aviva Stadium just a few days earlier. Serbia were Ireland’s opponents in the first round of fixtures as Daryl Murphy got Ireland out of jail in a 2-2 draw. Serbia have some familiar names including Nemanja Matic, Dusan Tadic and Newcastle United striker Mitrovic. They are arguably the best team in the group so Ireland need a better start to a big home game for once rather than chasing the game. This could end up being another stereotypical 1-1 home draw.
Moldova (home) 6th October
The final home game against group minnows Moldova should be a straightforward three points. This is clearly a must win and it would be a huge surprise if Ireland did not comfortably collect all three points. In the reverse fixture, a James McClean double saw off Moldova in a 3-1 victory.
Wales (away) 9th October
The Celtic derby part two is the final fixture of the group as Ireland make the short trip to Cardiff. It is a difficult game against Gareth Bale and co to end with so Ireland will hope they have at least a playoff spot secured by then with the possibility still alive for automatic qualification. The game at the Aviva ended 0-0 as Wales were reduced to ten men following Neil Taylor’s leg breaking tackle on Seamus Coleman. A draw may be a satisfactory result in this one provided all the previous games go to plan.
On this week’s edition of the Mixer Irish Football podcast, we spoke to former Ireland international Joe Gamble as well as looking ahead to Martin O’Neill’s side’s clash against Austria this weekend.