Republic of Ireland 1 Bulgaria 1
Wanted man Andy Reid did his market value no harm by grabbing his first Republic of Ireland goal against Bulgaria at Lansdowne Road tonight.
The £5million-rated Nottingham Forest midfielder slapped in a transfer request last week and is coveted by Charlton and Tottenham.
And while his 19th-minute goal which was cancelled out by Valeri Bojinov had a touch of fortune about it, Reid’s man-of-the-match performance did not.
Reid was as surprised as anybody when his long-range set-piece bobbled past everybody into the back of the net.
But he went on to torment a Bulgarian side aiming to impress coach Hristo Stoichkov, who was taking charge of his country for the first time.
Bojinov ran straight to embrace the national hero after powerfully scoring Bulgaria’s 70th-minute equaliser.
But that will not unduly worry Brian Kerr, who successfully saw the return of Damien Duff and the return of Jonathan Macken, and whose side look in good shape for next month’s World Cup qualifiers.
Yet Ireland’s send-off to those more serious matters to come might not have been quite so straightforward.
Captain Kenny Cunningham allowed Dimitar Berbatov a clear run on goal with less than a minute on the clock.
But the highly-rated Bayer Leverkusen star bounced a dreadful shot wide of target when a goal seemed inevitable.
If that displeased the attack-minded Stoichkov, what followed must have made him wish he could lace up his boots again.
Ireland assumed control with Clinton Morrison’s weak header almost catching out a diving Zdravko Zdravkov in the eighth minute.
Reid’s 15th-minute cross from the left almost caught out the Bulgarian defence and Zdravkov had to save a header from his own defender Rossen Kirilov.
Moments later Reid was sheepishly celebrating his first goal in Irish colours but despite his fortune it was an effort his performance richly deserved.
Kevin Kilbane forced Zdravkov into another save with a fine long-range strike as Ireland continued to fluidly move forward.
Reid’s efforts down the left provided the main source for Ireland’s attacks but for Duff, returning after his shoulder problems, simple match fitness was no less valuable.
Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho was wary of including Duff due to his lack of physical and mental fitness but his run-out tonight will have significantly aided the process.
Norwich target Gary Doherty and Kilbane both headed good chances over the bar towards the end of the first half while Reid hammered a long-range shot into the side-netting.
Morrison was one of the few who grew in confidence during a lacklustre start to the second half, fizzing in a 50th-minute effort which Zdravkov punched clear.
Reid produced another good cross from the left on the hour but Steve Finnan’s flick back fell behind Morrison.
Then substitute Carr’s trickery carried him past two men into the six-yard box but his cut-back was too fine for Morrison.
But Bulgaria would not roll over and after shooting high with an earlier chance, Bojinov made no mistake with a powerful half-volley past Given on 70 minutes.
Kerr continued to ring the changes with substitute goalkeeper Paddy Kenny amog those given a run-out.
Duff shot high into sidenetting when he could have marked his return with the winning goal.
And Macken was given little chance to impress up front upon replacing Morrison in the 63rd minute, his arrival coinciding with Bulgaria’s revival.
Fellow sub Alan Quinn had the best chance to win it late for his side but shot straight at Zdravkov with five minutes to play.
But Kerr’s team for the tests against Cyprus and Switzerland next month is taking shape after a summer of valuable if largely unmemorable friendly matches.
And despite not heading off with the win their performance deserved, Ireland will have ended the night cautiously encouraged for the future.
Scotland 0 Hungary 3
Switzerland 0 Northern Ireland 0
England 3 Ukraine 0
Latvia 0 Wales 2
Russia 4 Lithuania 3
Slovenia 1 Serbia & Montenegro 1
Japan 1 Argentina 2
Sweden 2 Holland 2
Austria 1 Germany 3
Poland 1 Denmark 5
WC European Qualifying Round 3:
Slovakia 3 Luxembourg 1
Liechtenstein 1 Estonia 2
WC European Qualifying Round 1:
Romania 2 Finland 1