The Republic of Ireland registered an excepted victory over Moldova but much more importantly, delivered a morale-boosting performance ahead of Monday’s visit to Wales.
Positive when in possession and equally effective without the ball, Martin O’Neill’s side rarely gave the visitors a look-in. Too often in the past, Ireland have struggled to put away inferior opponents but showed what they are capable of against Moldova when given licence to pass the ball through midfield.
The quartet of David Meyler, Wes Hoolahan, Callum O’Dowda and Jeff Hendrick linked-up superbly throughout the evening, their passing and movement the platform for Ireland’s win. More of the same in Cardiff please.
Callum O’Dowda’s standout individual performance was one of the biggest positives from Ireland’s fourth Group D victory of the World Cup qualifying campaign.
Dovetailing nicely with Wes Hoolahan, O’Dowda was at the heart of his country’s best moves early on and not afraid to shoot whenever the opportunity arose. In an Irish team crying out for creativity, the Bristol City midfielder showed glimpses of the raw talent that persuaded Martin O’Neill to promote the youngster from the U21 squad.
Far from the finished article, O’Dowda has a long way to go before solidifying a place in O’Neill’s starting line-up but is capable of making a name for himself in the coming years.
Ireland’s attacking options were limited heading into their penultimate World Cup qualifier because of Jonathan Walters’ injury plus Robbie Brady and James McClean’s absence through suspension.
Uncapped Scott Hogan, Sean Maguire and Aiden O’Brien’s surprise inclusions raised hopes of injecting fresh impetus into Ireland’s forward division but instead, it was a 34-year-old Waterford native who grabbed his opportunity.
Daryl Murphy netted his second and third international goals during an effective display in which the Nottingham Forest striker demonstrated his ability to hold possession, win the aerial battles and stick the ball in the back of the net. Useful traits should Jonathan Walters’ injury woes continue and Murphy is called upon to deputise once again.
The FAI picked a strange time to announce Martin O’Neill and his backroom team’s contract extension until 2020. Could releasing details of the Irish manager’s future two days ahead of the most important pair of international fixtures since the previous World Cup not have waited until the following week?
BREAKING: Martin O'Neill has agreed a contract extension and will continue as the Republic of Ireland manager for the EURO 2020 campaign! 👏 pic.twitter.com/UAjiKoMGVh— FAIreland ⚽️🇮🇪 (@FAIreland) October 5, 2017
O’Neill’s record reads favourably compared to previous incumbents and there is a lot to be said for continuity within an international setup that desperately needs to bring through a new generation of Irish footballers.
The former Celtic manager has already handed senior caps to the likes of Callum O’Dowda, Daryl Horgan and Conor Hourihane but will need to significantly increase and enhance that list to justify his new contract.
Friday night’s victory at the Aviva Stadium materialised, as expected, over bottom placed Moldova to keep Ireland’s chances of qualifying for Russia 2018 on life support.
It hasn’t been pretty but is a scenario that Martin O’Neill and Irish supporters would probably have accepted heading into Monday night’s showdown in Cardiff.
FIFA’s complicated mathematics for ranking second placed European countries aside, O’Neill and his players know exactly what they need to do.
Alarmingly, even a win over Chris Coleman’s Wales may not be enough depending on results elsewhere. What is certain is that Ireland can kiss their World Cup play-off hopes goodbye unless a second victory in four days is attained.