Republic of Ireland boss Martin O’Neill praised the self-belief of his players after seeing them fight back to snatch a vital Euro 2016 qualifier draw against Poland.
Ireland looked to be heading for a damaging defeat as the Group D encounter ticked into injury time with the Poles within touching distance of three more points to add to the 10 they had reaped from their opening four games.
However, O’Neill’s men summoned up a final push to rescue a point when substitute Shane Long prodded home a 91st-minute equaliser to make it 1-1 and ensure that the spoils were shared at the Aviva Stadium.
Asked what the message had been at half-time after a distinctly ordinary 45 minutes by his team, O’Neill said: “Just keep self-belief, that’s really important, really important.
“We felt we had not done ourselves justice in the first half. But you have got to keep self-belief, that’s really important for the side.
“That was the message, ’Know that you are still in this game, that we can do better, much better, we can improve’. We’d given away a really soft goal from our viewpoint, it put us on the back foot for a while, but we definitely could do it.
“The players rose to the occasion, which was great. That self-belief was really important. Poland, it’s a great point away from home as far as they’re concerned, but we are still well in it.”
Ireland created little of note before the break and found themselves trailing to Slawomir Peszko’s 26th-minute opener after he capitalised on an error by makeshift full-back Robbie Brady.
But the home side rallied after the restart and after Brady and Robbie Keane had both hit the post, Long struck at the death to level it.
It may not have been the victory the Republic craved to propel themselves back into the hunt for automatic qualification, but it was not the defeat O’Neill had admitted in advance would cause a “big dent” in their hopes.
Nevertheless, they will entertain Scotland in June sitting in fourth place in the group, still three points behind the Poles and two adrift of Germany and the Scots.
Poland boss Adam Nawalka was disappointed to have seen two points wrenched from his grasp, but happy enough with a scoreline he believed was fair.
He said: “Overall, I believe the result was a fair scoreline. We played a very good first half and maybe lacked a bit of quality, but overall, we are content with a draw.
“Three points were really close, but one point is also a good result. It’s no surprise that Ireland came back to score an equaliser because the other results show that they know how to play to the end and get a result in their favour at the end of the game.”