Monday 30 March 2015 09:51, UK
Shane Long scored in stoppage-time as Republic of Ireland rescued a 1-1 draw with Group D leaders Poland in the European Qualifiers.
The late show in Dublin keeps Martin O’Neill’s side’s Euro 2016 hopes well and truly alive as they stay three points behind Poland at the top of Group D, while they are just two points behind Germany and Scotland, who both picked up wins on Sunday afternoon.
The hosts found themselves behind after a defensive lapse from Robbie Brady and Marc Wilson was capitalised on by Slawomir Peszko and he took full advantage, powering a left-footed strike past Shay Given.
Ireland came out in the second half with renewed vigour and hit the woodwork twice through Brady’s deflected cross and Robbie Keane’s header.
But just as they thought it was not going to be their night, substitute Long popped up to stab home Wes Hoolahan’s knockdown and grab a vital point in the race for qualification.
Poland, cheered on by massive away support in Dublin, saw plenty of the ball in the opening stages but it was the home side who mustered the first real chance of the game. A quick free-kick caught Poland napping as Hoolahan drove the ball to the edge of the box but dragged his shot wide of Lukasz Fabianski’s goal.
Republic of Ireland were growing into the game and James McCarthy exchanged passes with the energetic Hoolahan before bursting into the box, but the Everton midfielder could not find Robbie Keane with his cut back.
In what was a pretty even contest, it was no surprise to see a defensive error lead to the opening goal in the 26th minute as poor defending from Wilson and Brady in the left-back position allowed former Wolves star Peszko steal the ball, cut inside and fire a thunderous left-footed strike past a helpless Given.
Poland were starting to control the midfield areas and they went close to doubling their advantage as Maciej Rybus’ free-kick flew inches wide.
Ireland nearly restored parity going into the break as quick feet from Aiden McGeady left two Polish defenders on the floor, but the forward’s chipped shot drifted agonisingly wide of Fabianski’s far post.
Whatever O’Neill said to his troops at the break clearly worked as Ireland played with renewed vigour after the break and they nearly levelled the scores after Brady’s cross deflected off Pawel Olkowski, looped over the head of Fabianski but rebounded off the post.
Brady, who had a mixed night from dead ball situations, finally produced a testing corner for the Polish defence and Wilson climbed highest – only to power a header straight into the arms of Fabianski.
Ireland threw on James McClean in the 66th minute and his introduction almost produced instant reward as his cross found Keane at the back post, but the LA Galaxy star’s header cannoned back off the post.
The home side were firmly on top and it was McClean again involved as they created an opening for Seamus Coleman. The Everton full-back was in acres of space but he lost his composure and slashed his wild shot miles wide.
Time was running out for O’Neill and his side and the manager turned to Long with just seven minutes of normal time remaining.
Ireland’s dominance finally paid off in the first minute of stoppage time as Hoolahan knocked down Brady’s corner and Long was on hand to lift the ball over Fabianski, who thought he was fouled in the build-up to the corner, and into the back of the net to keep Ireland in touch at the top of Group D.
Next up for Ireland is a friendly against England on June 6 but all eyes will be on their crucial qualifier a week later at the Aviva Stadium against Scotland, who are just two points above them in the table, before September fixtures away at Gibraltar and home to Georgia.