Martin O’Neill was in bullish mood immediately after gaining a point in the Republic of Ireland’s World Cup 2018 qualifying 2-2 draw away to Serbia in Belgrade.
“Eventually, yes, we were happy to come away with a point from here tonight,” O’Neill told RTÉ.
“We took a very early lead in the game but you would expect them to have a lot of possession, being the home side. The pitch amazingly became very, very boggy rather quickly but we knew they were going to come into the game in the second half and did so.
“We have roared back after conceding the penalty, had a goal disallowed and Shane Long has had a great chance to equalise before Daryl has come up with a great, great goal.
“We deserved a point, without question.”
When pressed on his side’s inability to hold on to their early lead, the Irish manager pointed to the fact Serbia gave away the ball as well as Ireland.
“This is very, very difficult, playing away from home in a World cup qualifier,” O’Neill stated.
“These boys (Serbia) play in big, big leagues. Actually, they gave it away a few times. The conditions didn’t help but we have not come here expecting to control the game for 90 minutes in an away game against Serbia, that’s lunacy.
“At the end of all that we have fought back and gotten a point. They tell me the penalty decision was a wee bit soft. It was deemed a penalty by the referee who I thought wasn’t sure about his game at all tonight.”
Despite a poor performance, a point away from home is a welcome one.
“It is a great point, a great point this early on in the competition,” the Irish manager reiterated.
“France is gone and out of the way. Some of the younger players are coming in here and are very fine players who are going to get fitter as the season goes on. That point there sets us up for next month and hopefully, we are going to drive on.
“This group will have turns and twists, everything you can name between now and qualification time. You don’t know realise hard it is to come away from home and score twice in such difficult conditions. We have done it brilliantly.”
O’Neill reiterated that a deal was agreed to remain as Ireland boss, despite rumoured interest from Hull, insisting he had “shaken hands on a deal a long time ago”.
The man who saved a point, Daryl Murphy, expressed his delight at finally breaking his Ireland duck.
“I had to get off the mark at some stage,” the Newcastle United man told RTÉ.
“To score here tonight and get off the mark, I’m just delighted. There were a few bad decisions and the pitch didn’t help .
“I don’t think many teams will come here and get the result, so we can be quite happy with it.”
Of his equalising header, Murphy added: “I had a lot of time on it, there was no one near me, I had time to make a mess of it, but I made sure I got good contact on it. Hopefully there’ll be more to come.”
Stephen Quinn lauded Ireland’s comeback but wondered couldn’t help wondering why they left it so late to change style.
Only after O’Neill’s side fell 2-1 behind did they begin to cut the Serbs open the flanks, leading to a glut of chances in the lead-up to Murphy’s equaliser.
Shane Long had been relied upon as Ireland’s target-man until then, forcing them to work off scraps and set-pieces.
Quinn, who replaced Stephen Ward after Serbia plundered an equaliser, insisted Ireland were worthy of a point.
“It was a good point considering how bad the pitch was and the officials being terrible,” said the Reading midfielder.
“It was one of those where their formation was different. They got out with their full back, forcing James McClean and Jon Walters to defend really deep.
“We didn’t set out to get a goal and defend because you can’t do that in qualifiers.
“When we went behind, we showed what we’re about. We were decent on the ball and we’ve got good footballers in our team.
“Maybe we should get on the ball more and show what we’re about. We’ve got the players but it’s a case of having the confidence to go out and do it. Get on the ball and not panic.
“We can work these teams out in wide areas. The delivery into the box and the height and power in the box causes teams problems.
“It’s just a case of putting our foot on it and passing it around for build-up play.”
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