Ward goal sets Ireland up for qualification

HT: Republic of Ireland 1 Estonia 0 (Aggregate: 5-0)

Ward goal sets Ireland up for qualification

HT: Republic of Ireland 1 Estonia 0 (Aggregate: 5-0)

Stephen Ward ended any hopes of a remarkable Estonia comeback to edge Ireland closer to the Euro 2012 finals.

The Wolves full-back’s 31st-minute strike after keeper Pavel Londak had parried Kevin Doyle’s header extended Ireland’s aggregate lead to 5-0.

Skipper Robbie Keane had earlier missed from just five yards on a night when the home side had simply to avoid a heavy defeat to take their place in the draw.

Stalwarts Kevin Doyle and John O’Shea returned to the Ireland starting line-up tonight, to join the push to turn their 4-0 first-leg advantage over Estonia into a place at the Euro 2012 finals.

The pair, who have played such key roles during the last two campaigns, replaced Jon Walters and Stephen Kelly on their returns from suspension and injury respectively, while Stephen Hunt was handed a rare start in place of Aiden McGeady.

Estonia boss Tarmo Ruutli, who was without banned trio Sergei Pareiko, Andrei Stepanov and Raio Piiroja, made a further three changes as Joel Lindpere, Pavel Londak, Taavi Rahn, Taijo Teniste, Kaimar Saag and Vladimir Voskoboinikov were drafted in.

Having returned from Tallinn on Friday night with a 4-0 first leg lead, Ireland ran out knowing the job was very nearly done.

Damien Duff blazed high and wide after cutting inside from the left wing with less than two minutes gone, but Estonia enjoyed a major escape three minutes later.

Doyle helped on Shay Given’s long clearance and skipper Robbie Keane managed to get the wrong side of central defender Taavi Rahn, only to see his shot blocked by keeper Pavel Londak.

But the man who took his international tally to 53 goals with a double in the first leg was guilty of a glaring miss seconds later when, after Londak had blocked Duff’s snapshot from Hunt’s clever free-kick, he stabbed wide from just five yards.

Rahn was booked for a 10th-minute tackle from behind on Duff as the visitors struggled to stem the green tide, although left-back Stephen Ward had to be alert to prevent captain Konstantin Vassiljev’s through-ball from reaching Voskoboinikov four minutes later.

Estonia’s problems increased with just 18 minutes played when left-back Dmitri Kruglov limped off to be replaced by Sander Puri, prompting a reshuffle which saw midfielder Teniste drop into the defence.

Tarmo Ruutli’s side were starting to make an impression after the early storm had abated, although without bringing Given into play.

The visitors were visibly growing in confidence with Vassiljev orchestrating from deep, although they continued to look vulnerable at the back, particularly down their right-hand side with Duff and Ward keeping full-back Enar Jaager fully occupied.

Keane and Doyle were working hard up front to stretch the Estonia back line, but Rahn and Ragnar Klavan were proving committed adversaries.

Ward forced a 31st-minute corner with a dangerous cross which Klavan headed behind for a corner with Londak seemingly poised to claim the ball behind him.

Doyle got his head to Duff’s set-piece to send the ball towards goal, where the goalkeeper could only parry it and Ward gleefully turned the rebound past him to extend Ireland’s aggregate lead.

Given was called upon for the first time 11 minutes before the break when he got down well to his left to make a regulation save from Voskoboinikov’s 20-yard drive.

To their credit, the Estonians continued to take the game to their hosts whenever they could, and front two Saag and Voskoboinikov combined to good effect on the edge of the box four minutes later only for the latter’s heavy touch to allow Richard Dunne to intervene.

Saag combined well with Lindpere with two minutes of the half remaining, but stumbled as he attempted to collect the return pass, and the chance had gone.

But his side could have slipped further behind seconds later when Keane turned smartly on Doyle’s pass, but sent his hurried shot wide of the post.

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