Saturday, November 12, 2016


Ireland's first ever victory on Austrian soil has opened the door to a world of possibilities. 
2016 was a major tournament year, but this result could have a significant impact on Martin O'Neill's ambitions to bring Ireland to another one in Russia in 18 months time.

The last away triumph in a qualifier of this magnitude came in Scotland back in February 1987. These are the games that Irish sides are not supposed to win.
And, while time froze in time added on when the unmarked Marc Janko headed wide in a crowded goalmouth, this was a result that Ireland earned.
James McClean's 48th minute effort did the job and the most satisfying aspect of the outcome for O'Neill will be the fact that if there was a period where his team rode their luck, it was before the goal as opposed to afterwards.
His patched up side responded to adversity to grind out a crucial success over an Austrian group that is already staring elimination in the face.
At the end, they had run themselves into the ground. Jon Walters could barely walk. Seamus Coleman crawled after David Alaba in the late drama. But they stood firm at key junctures to make a big statement.
It didn't look likely earlier in the evening.

Ireland were level at the break after a chaotic opening half at the Ernst Happel Stadium where the loss of Glenn Whelan forced a tactical switch that was unable to affect the general flow of proceedings.
Specifically, it was Austrian pressure and frantic defending from the visitors that bordered on the agricultural.
Not that Austria screamed assurance.

What they had was the urgency that comes with being under pressure following a tardy start to the group, so they pressed high and their movement was sharper in the early exchanges as their full backs wandered forward to expose the absence of width in Ireland's diamond.
They had three chances inside the opening five minutes that left Ireland on the back foot knocking the ball behind for corners and hanging on for dear life. Lumbering attacker Janko tested Darren Randolph from their clearest opening.

Whelan suffered a thigh issue that forced him off with the SOS sent out for David Meyler. He spent a couple of minutes at the base of the diamond in front of the back four but it clearly wasn't going to work so competitive debutant Harry Arter was switched inside next to him with McClean and Jeff Hendrick splitting wide and Wes Hoolahan operating behind lone striker Walters in a 4-2-3-1.

McClean had started the match playing off Walters and did get away one right footed shot but Ireland were struggling to execute the plan.
Still, they had to live on their nerves in the new set-up with a brilliant last ditch Coleman tackle denying Arnautovic before Ciaran Clark made a goalline clearance to block Janko after Marcel Sabitzer almost capped a slick passage with a deft chip over Randolph came back off the bar.
Ireland did have a reasonable spell before the interval, though, and they could have seized a lead against the run of play from an excellent team move with Robbie Brady getting forward from left full to engineer a one two with Norwich colleague Hoolahan and then send in a terrific cross that Walters scooped over the bar from close range. A glorious chance.
The fear was that Ireland wouldn't create another.

But that view paid too much respect to an Austrian operation that have creaked since they travelled to France with high expectations and failed miserably. Their star turn, David Alaba, is out of sorts and the fault lines were evident before the break.
It was just a matter of Ireland being good enough to expose them. And, three minutes after the restart, they struck with a rapid fire break.
Meyler started the move by gaining possession in his own half, pushing red shirts aside and cleverly switching the ball inside Hoolahan. Austria were stretched, and Hoolahan took the time to gather himself and spot McClean racing unguarded down the left side with Florian Klein dragged out of position.

The weight of his through ball was perfect - this again proves the playmaker can make his presence felt on the road - and it invited McClean to bound into the area and drive the ball through the legs of Ramazan Ozcan and into the net. Every element of the goal was fantastic.
Austria were rattled and, suddenly, Ireland played with composure.
Hendrick lifted his performance level several notches and Arter showed a combative streak by getting stuck into proceedings. Walters had a goal disallowed and Hoolahan did waste another situation where Austria had overcommitted and Ireland had men over.
Ciaran Clark's header was hacked off the line in another scramble with Brady's set piece deliveries threatening - he would later blot his copybook with a silly caution for kicking the ball away which rules him out of Wales in March.

That was rash, yet Austria's overall discipline was  dreadful with skipper Julian Baumgartlinger setting the wrong example by fouling himself in the book and risking a second caution for indolently choping down Hoolahan.
Irish teams have a bad habit of ceding the ball in this position and looking for trouble but, as the game entered its final quarter, they had managed to keep the Austrians at arm's length and restrict them to speculative shots from distance.
Hoolahan was replaced by David McGoldrick and a tireless shift from McClean, who had lifted the away end with a rousing run just beforehand, ended due to injury with five minutes remaining. Aiden McGeady got the nod.
Austria huffed and puffed without breaching the line. Shane Duffy won headers, Coleman hustled and harried, Arter and Meyler closed space and Walters bravely attempted to run down the clock.

At the death, the good work was nearly undone when a cross shot found its way to Janko but he was facing the wrong direction and sent the ball off target. The Irish celebration started seconds later, conscious that they are now headed in the right way, sitting top of Group Don 10 points, two clear of Serbia who drew 1-1 in Wales.

Austria: Ozcan, Klein, Dragovic, Hinteregger, Wimmer (Ilsanker 78); Baumgartlinger, Alaba; Schopf (Schaub 58), Sabitzer (Harnik 73), Arnautovic; Janko
Ireland: Randolph, Coleman, Duffy, Clark, Brady; Whelan (Meyler 22); Hendrick, Arter; Hoolahan (McGoldrick 78); McClean (McGeady 85), Walters

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