If the name of the game in Ireland’s World Cup qualifying group is to pick your rivals off one by one, then Harry Arter feels Austria might be the first victim to perish.
An historic win in Vienna on Saturday puts Ireland in a commanding position to target top spot, the only automatic route to Russia, or second place as a fall-back.
Martin O’Neill’s fear that Group D couldbe the one to miss out on a play-off spot seems to be allayed after racking up 10 points from the opening four fixtures.
Austria, six points behind, would require something special in the revival stakes over the remaining six matches and, in the eyes of Arter, could be mathematically out of the reckoning by the time they visit Dublin in June for the return fixture.
“Austria weren’t on a great run of results, so we knew all week that the pressure was going to be on them,” outlined the Bournemouth man, after making his competitive debut for Ireland.
“They came into the match aiming to prove a point and started well but we probably sat off them a little bit. The pitch wasn’t great, and we were turning the ball over too easily, so the manager was right in letting us know at half-time that it wasn’t good enough.
“We got the goal and saw the game out. Austria were probably the favourites to qualify and we’ve won a very difficult game. We saw how difficult Wales found it when they came to Vienna last month.
“The result puts us in a great position and places Austria in a lot of trouble for the rest of the campaign. It changes things slightly too in that, by the time we play them again, Austria might be out of it. They may not need to win and that changes their mindset.”
Foremost in Arter’s head now is retaining his place for the next outing against Wales in March. An injury to James McCarthy created the vacancy in midfield for the Londoner to fill and he’s relieved to have finally added a competitive appearance to his three caps in friendlies.
“The manager knows he can trust me now,” admitted the player who was left on the bench in Belgrade in September against Serbia.
“I always thought that was part of the reason that I hadn’t played so much in the past.
“To make my competitive debut was great but to mark it with a good result is even better. I wasn’t pleased with my first half performance.
“We set up a certain way and then, after Glenn Whelan went off, the manager changed the game-plan which I thought worked better for us.
“I’m really grateful to be given that chance and now plan to keep playing for Bournemouth during this long break we have until the Wales game.”
Robbie Brady will miss that clash in March after incurring his second yellow card of the campaign. With Ireland in the lead, the left-back was punished for time-wasting by flicking the ball away as the Austrians attempted to take a swift throw-in.
“It was silly of me and I can only apologise,” confessed the Norwich City man. “I had forgotten all about the previous booking and didn’t realise at the time it would mean a suspension. I just felt at that moment if they had thrown it in behind someone, we were in danger, so I flicked it rather than kicked it away, hoping I might get away with it. But he booked me and an opportunity missed.
“We have some great players who can step in but it won’t make it any easier on myself to miss it because I love coming in here and playing every game for my country.”
Seamus Coleman is another who is passionate about assembling with the squad and the captain cited the result as evidence of the team’s cohesion under O’Neill.
“Last summer at the Euros really brought this group of lads together. We got a lot of stick after drawing in Serbia game which was ridiculous really because getting a point was a good result given the state of the pitch.
“We’ve got a couple of home games coming up in the new year and we can’t take those granted. Austria are not out of this and will be after us when they come to Dublin.”
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