A first-half Diane Caldwell goal was enough to give Ireland a deserved victory over Greece in Tallaght and keep their Euro 2021 qualification hopes firmly on track.
In their last two games, Ireland had coughed up leads, surrendering a 2-0 advantage over Ukraine before eventually edging that game 3-2 and then, in a costly setback, conceding a stoppage time equaliser against the Greeks in Athens last November.
But, to relief and celebration all ‘round, that was not the case last night. A stated ambition this time was for Ireland to get on the front foot from word go and try to ensure that, if they did gain an advantage, they wouldn’t let it slip. And nor did they, though they did have enough control of this game to have made the finish to the night a good deal more comfortable than it turned out to be.
Áine O’Gorman coming out of retirement and straight back in for her 101st cap at full-back, meant skipper Katie McCabe was freed up to revert to her favoured left-sided attacking role, with Rianna Jarrett leading the line in Ireland’s search for goals.
As they had shown in Athens, the Greeks are a tidy team who don’t shirk a physical challenge and, when out of possession in Tallaght —which was for most the time — they were happy to string five white shirts across the back.
But that didn’t stop Ireland creating the first big chance of the night, ‘keeper Anthi Papakonstantinou producing a finger-tip save to deny Denise O’Sullivan after Jarrett had pulled the back across the face of the goal.
With the classy O’Sullivan pulling the strings as usual in the middle of the park, Ireland continued to dominate possession and force the Greeks back but it wasn’t entirely one-way traffic, ‘keeper Marie Hourhan’s failure to hold onto a high corner in the 19th minute briefly causing panic stations on the Irish line before a hurried clearance invited O’Sullivan to embark on a thrilling solo counter-attack which, unfortunately, ended with the anti-climax of a tame Jarrett shot on the Greek goal.
The home side needed to balance patience with purpose as they repeatedly built from the back.
They also had to be wary of less than precision passing in congested areas, interceptions allowing the Greeks the odd chance to threaten on the break.
But almost on the stroke of half-time, Ireland got the lead their constructive play deserved, even if it did eventually come from a free-kick. McCabe’s deep delivery from the left was superb and, after Louise Quinn headed the ball back across goal, her defensive partner Diane Caldwell had the happy task of tapping home from close-range.
The Irish were out early for the second-half, keen to keep their winning momentum going, but a nasty clash of heads involving Quinn and Kokoviadou soon brought proceedings to a temporary halt before both players were cleared to resume.
The Greeks, as they had to be, were now more ambitious in getting players forward but that left more space at the back for Ireland to attack and, in the 55th minute, the impressive Ruesha Littlejohn really should have made it two, only to badly miscue her second attempt on goal – with Katie McCabe in an even better position to profit — after the ‘keeper had saved her first effort.
Despite their overall dominance, Ireland’s narrow lead on the scoreboard meant that there was a discernible nervousness in the ground as the game entered its final phase, with any Greek sight of goal greeted with trepidation by the majority in a crowd of 4,511.
As expected, there was a change of Barretts in the 71st minute, Rianna making way for Amber, but it was Greek substitute Sarri who came agonisingly close to an equaliser four minutes later with a curving shot just wide of Hourihan’s far post.
With 10 minutes to go, Barrett did find the net only to be ruled offside, and she then came close with a shot on the turn in the 86th minute.
The Greeks continued to try to salvage something as the game entered time added on but with O’Sullivan continuing to lead by example — her ball-winning now as vital as her creativity — Ireland ensured there would be no repeat of that late sucker punch in Athens and held firm to secure a vital three points.
REP OF IRELAND: M Hourihan,Scott, Caldwell, Quinn, O’Gorman, Fahey, O’Sullivan, Payne (Russell 62), Littlejohn (Shine 85), McCabe, Barrett (Barrett 71).
GREECE: Papakonstantinou, Chatzigiannidou, Sidira, Chatzinikolaou, Gkatsou, Kydonaki, Kakambouki,Markou, Kynossidou (Spyridonidou 82),Moraitou (Vardali 65), Kongouli (Sarri 65), Kokoviadou
Referee: Martina Madrona (Spain)