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 30,000 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 into 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)
Conor McManus, Pundit Arena
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