BRAND new Lansdowne Road , same old scoreline. Ten years ago, Ireland beat Andorra 3-1 at the old ground, a distinct case of winning ugly on the road to glorious qualification for Japan and Korea . We can only hope last night’s tepid repeat at the Aviva points the way to a similar route to Poland and Ukraine.
Ireland ran out comfortable if hardly convincing winners to sit on top of the table after a game which featured the shock to the home system of a goal out of nothing by the part-timers. And what a goal it was, albeit one rivalled by a sensational strike from Kevin Doyle – two welcome explosions of drama on a night which, for long periods, struggled to keep the attention of a crowd of just over 40,000.
The dominant themes of the game were established right from the first whistle: pinball in the Andorran box, Robbie Keane eking out a couple of half-chances and a flying Aiden McGeady terrifying his double-markers every time he got on the ball. The only surprise was that it took 14 minutes for the thick blue line to crack and, this being Ireland , not surprisingly it came from a set-piece. Liam Lawrence supplied the inswinging corner from the left and there was the ageless Kevin Kilbane rising at the near post to reprise his opener for Ireland against the same opposition at Lansdowne Road all of a decade ago, although on that occasion, remarkably, the Irish had to play catch-up before seeing off the minnows.
A long-ranger from Sergi Moreno, which Shay Given unconvincingly scooped away for a corner, came as a reminder Ireland could not afford any sloppiness or complacency – and, worryingly, there was more than enough of that as the first-half wore on, for the crowd to voice their frustration.
A speckling of misplaced passes also meant that the momentum Ireland had built up in the first 15 minutes began to evaporate and, when Lawrence dinked a close-range effort the wrong side of the post on the half-hour mark, it added to the feeling the home side were making heavy weather of punishing their aggressive, hard-working but hugely limited opponents. Not that they were helped, it must be said, by a whistle-happy Cypriot referee.
A moment of inspiration was required and, five minutes before the break, it was duly supplied by the outstanding Doyle. There didn’t look to be much on when Doyle dug out the ball some 25 yards from goal but, when he suddenly unleashed a ferocious angled drive, it had destination top corner written all over it from the moment it left his left boot.
But, to the astonishment of the Aviva Stadium, it quickly turned out that anything Doyle could do, Christian Martinez could do better and when, on a rare sortie upfield for Andorra, the ball broke kindly for him from a wayward Richard Dunne header, the number 11 left Given helpless with a magnificent half-volley which screamed into the roof of the Irish net.
Cue stunned silence and muted applause for the teams leaving the pitch at half-time as, instead of luxuriating in the comfort zone of a two-goal lead, Irish minds were suddenly darkened by memories of San Marino .
The urgency with which Kilbane rushed to take a throw-in after the break, suggested that Giovanni Trapattoni had drummed home the message that his team needed to firmly get back on track and resume dictating the tempo of the game. But, with Richard Dunne’s distribution from the back anything but precise, Ireland only finally solved the puzzle of a massed defence through some admirably slick passing in the final third. Fifty-four minutes were on the clock when a quick, incisive move involving Paul Green, McGeady and Kevin Doyle, ended with Robbie Keane rediscovering the deft striker’s touch to rack up his 44th goal for his country.
With the restoration of Ireland ‘s two-goal advantage, Trapattoni clearly felt the game was safe, with Darron Gibson entering the fray in place of Glenn Whelan, who was carrying a yellow card over from Yerevan . But just minutes later, Dunne, having an uneasy night, conceded a free-kick and picked up his own yellow to make the final half hour a bit of a personal minefield for the defender ahead of next month’s meeting with Russia.
In the 66th minute, Doyle was wrestled to the ground in the box and, always the most reliable of witnesses, was visibly amazed when the referee waved play on. It wasn’t the only occasion on which Ireland should really have added to their tally but, not for the first time, McGeady was finding that some of his most promising runs only lead down a cul-de-sac. Still, credit Andorra who didn’t fold cheaply and were still willing to close down space even in the Irish half. But so unthreatening were they as an attacking force by this late stage that Given could afford to do stretching exercise outside his own box as the remainder of the game unfolded at the other end.
Job done. Effective but not pretty. Barely had the final whistle sounded than thoughts were already turning to the visit of Russia and the trip to Slovakia next month.
Subs for Republic of Ireland: Gibson for Whelan 60, Kelly forO’Shea 74, Keogh for Doyle 82.
Subs for Andorra: Jimenez for Moreno 58, Sonejee for Pujol 6.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved