Republic of Ireland took on Serbia tonight as their qualification campaign for the 2018 World Cup got underway.
Martin O’Neill’s side got the best possible start after just four minutes, as Jeff Hendrick’s volley deflected off Serbia defender Branislav Ivanovic and past goalkeeper Pedrag Rajkovic.
Serbia grew in attacking threat from there on out, and but for some poor finishing could easily have gone at half time level.
However, a turgid second half from Ireland allowed the hosts back into the game, first from Filip Kostic and then through a highly dubious penalty from Dusan Tadic.
A first international goal from substitute Daryl Murphy levelled matters with ten minutes remaining – and given the circumstances, it’s an undeserved draw that Ireland will take.
Republic of Ireland Player Ratings:
Darren Randolph – 6: Had a decent game overall, if a bit nervous. Was lucky that an error from a Mladenovic shot didn’t lead to a third Serbian goal, but saved well from Ivanovic late on.
Seamus Coleman – 5: Questionable role in the Serbian equaliser, and his decision-making in defence was generally suspect.
John O’Shea – 4.5: Struggled badly. Fell asleep for the Serbian equaliser and looked off the pace throughout. Hopefully still carrying the injury, because the alternative suggests O’Shea’s decline is worsening.
Richard Keogh – 5: The Irish defence was anything but solid tonight, but Keogh was the more able performer of the two centre-halves. If Rafa Benítez can improve Ciaran Clark, however, then he and Shane Duffy will be pushing Keogh and O’Shea very hard for the two starting slots in the near future.
Stephen Ward – 6: Solid, generally. Ward came into the team when Robbie Brady was pushed further forward in Euro 2016, and hasn’t really put a foot wrong since. Average, but surrounded by a defence and midfield who weren’t even as good as that.
Glenn Whelan – 4: Lost his place in the starting eleven during Euro 2016 and with performances like that won’t be keeping it again for much longer. Whelan has had far, far better games for Ireland than this and O’Neill should be considering his options. Offered nothing.
Jeff Hendrick – 5: Scored his first international goal tonight but that’s all that was positive about Burnley’s record signing tonight. Struggled badly in the conditions, and showed signs of fatigue from far too early on in the game.
Robbie Brady – 6: Started well but, like Hendrick, faded. The number 10 shirt that Brady has inherited from Robbie Keane carries an extra weight of responsibility – Brady has come on leaps and bounds for this team over the past few months but that carries the danger of over-reliance on the midfielder.
Jonathan Walters – 4.5: Another who struggled badly in the conditions. Walters is capable of producing commanding performances, but was virtually anonymous tonight. The 32-year-old will have much better nights than this going forward.
James McClean – 5: Worked hard, but that was about it. That the front three were isolated wasn’t necessarily the fault of any of them, but likewise none of them seemed to react well to it. Missed a decent chance with a header late on.
Shane Long – 6: The Southampton striker simply wasn’t getting the service he needed tonight. Ran around a lot but fed off scraps for the most part. Another who missed a good chance before Murphy equalised late on.
Stephen Quinn (Ward 70) – 6: Came on just after Serbia took a 2-1 lead, and while it might have been sheer coincidence, Ireland did st least start playing along the ground more upon Quinn’s introduction.
Daryl Murphy (Hendrick 75) – 7: Finally scored his first international goal, and it could prove vital in the group going forward. Looked a threat towards the very end.
Ciaran Clark (Long 90) – N/A: Came on in injury time, not enough time to make a significant impact.