By Alan Smith
While not defeated, the Irish players left the Aviva last night deflated.
David Alaba’s last gasp leveller left hopes of qualifying for the World Cup in Brazil next year in tatters. Ireland now have a mountain to climb if they are to travel the road to Rio.
Several of the players were too shellshocked to stop and speak to media at the end, instead choosing to dash behind a plastic screen and on to their team bus.
There was, however, a common sense of despondency amongst those who gave their thoughts.
John O’Shea, who stood stunned a yard away as Alaba’s punt deflected off Sean St Ledger and into the net, was so gutted he repeated the word ‘frustrating’ over a dozen times in four minutes.
“We had chances in injury time to keep the ball in the corner," he said. "We gave them half a sniff and they’ve been fortunate as well because it’s taken a deflection. If it didn’t, it probably would have gone straight into David Forde’s hands.
“It’s hugely frustrating but we need to learn from this experience, young lads especially, how to kill games off. They were very clever and the referee bought a lot of their fouls in the second half, giving them a lot of soft decisions, which is a bit frustrating too. We have to grow up and learn from it quickly.
“It’s one of those things, there was maybe a lack of concentration and a bit of tiredness creeping in. It was the third minute of injury time. One or two lads were caught out of position and he got the space to take a shot. It took a lucky deflection and went straight over Fordey. As I said, it’s frustrating.
“Unfortunately we gave Austria the ball back when we were in such a great position with the free-kick. It’s disappointing because we had such a positive reaction to coming from a goal down.”
The result leaves Ireland in fourth position, tied with both Austria and Sweden but behind on goal difference, at the midway point in the group. But with Sweden to come to the Aviva and Ireland still having to travel to Vienna, O’Shea was defiant that qualification remains a realistic possibility.
“We have a very strong belief we can beat Sweden and Austria and be professional against Kazhakstan and the Faroes. That would put us in a strong position," he added.
“We’ve nothing to fear going to Austria or with Sweden coming here. We have to respect them but the younger lads will know now we’re more than capable of getting the results in those two games.
Jon Walters may have scored the two goals which looked like securing the points but he said the late concession felt like the hard work which had been put in for the preceding 92 minutes and in Stockholm on Friday has been ruined.
“It does feel like the work has been undone yeah, there are a lot of players who haven’t had a lot of games who’ve come into the squad and put in some good performances, especially in Sweden where we defended really well.
“There are fine lines in football, that last minute goal, and if it hadn’t have happened it would have been all cheers now.
“We weren’t able to get a third goal and that proved costly in the end.
“It was definitely there for us to score another. We had a couple of half-chances, a breakaway, some corners and James (McClean) almost found the top corner with a free-kick.
“If we had have got that third it would have been game over but that’s the way football is, it wasn’t to be and a last minute goal is hard to take.
“I think I said last week that four points would have been the target this week, at least. But we would have been more than happy with that.”
As for whether our hopes of qualification now lie in tatters, the Stoke man said: “There are lots of twists and turns to come before the end of qualifying, but we’ve got to play both teams again and they’re must win games.
“We’ve got to get ourselves up for the next qualifier against the Faroe Islands here and obviously that’s a must-win, then we’ve got Austria away and Sweden at home and they’re must win games as well.”
Conor Sammon, meanwhile, said he didn't know why Shane Long was contentiously substituted for Paul Green entering the latter stages.
By far Ireland’s best player, Long was bizarrely taken off for Green – the defensive midfielder then placed on the right flank instead of his favoured holding role. It allowed Austria the chance to pile on the pressure and Sammon, who made his first competitive start for Ireland and lasted the entire 90 minutes, admitted he was also a tad baffled by the decision.
“He put in a hard shift but I didn't see anything wrong with him. He had a great game. I have no idea why he was taken off," the Derby man said.
“There is great disappointment in the dressing room, particularly after going ahead at such a crucial point in the game before half-time and when you get so close.
“We worked really hard out there in the second half. You are coming out in the second-half to see it out, to be honest. We worked hard trying to press them, although they had more possession in the second-half and passed the ball around well.
“At the same time I didn’t think they created an awful lot. So it is bitterly disappointing that they scored so late on. It does feel like a defeat although it is a point gained."