Friday 26 December 2014

Republic battle to welcome win

Published 03/09/2014 | 07:32

Alex Pearce celebrates scoring Ireland's second goal
Alex Pearce celebrates scoring Ireland's second goal
Kevin Doyle, second left, celebrates his goal against Oman

Kevin Doyle and Alex Pearce ensured the Republic of Ireland will head into their Euro 2016 qualifying campaign on the back of a victory as Oman fell by the wayside in Dublin.

Doyle's 20th-minute header and Pearce's late strike handed manager Martin O'Neill just the second win of his reign to date, which now amounts to eight games, in the final friendly before the competitive action gets under way in Georgia on Sunday.

The Omanis represented modest opposition and Ireland might have won more comfortably on a night when they hit the woodwork twice in front of a crowd of just 14,376 at the Aviva Stadium.

Quite what O'Neill will have learned from a game in which he rested most of his key men is a matter for debate, but there were positives other than the final score.

Everton midfielder Darron Gibson got 70 minutes under his belt in his first appearance since rupturing his anterior cruciate ligament on international duty in October last year, while veteran goalkeeper Shay Given played the first half on his return to the Ireland fold.

Stephen Quinn was quietly impressive in central midfield, while Wes Hoolahan was sharp as he buzzed around in the hole behind lone striker Doyle.

Ireland, ranked 66th in the world by FIFA, looked significantly stronger that 67th-placed Oman, but in truth, they were unable to kill the game off until Pearce, who had scored his only other goal on his debut as a substitute against the same opposition in 2012, found the back of the net.

O'Neill, who saw his side lose 5-1 to Portugal in their last game, will field a much stronger starting XI in Tbilisi, and his players will have to be much more clinical if they are to return with the positive result they crave.

Whether Given is included in that team is a decision the manager insists he will not make until the final few hours of his preparations with Millwall's David Forde the man in favour recently.

However if the Aston Villa man does get the nod, he will certainly not have as quiet an evening as he enjoyed on his return.

Given was largely a spectator as Oman failed to make anything of the handful of openings they created, while an understandably rusty Gibson got minutes under his belt and saw plenty of the ball at the base of O'Neill's midfield.

In a low-key start, Hoolahan and Robbie Brady both had shots blocked at source and Mohammed Al Siyabi and Eid Al Farsi fired wide from long distance with Given only mildly concerned.

But the game came to life with 20 minutes gone when Doyle climbed highest to head Brady's inswinging corner past goalkeeper Ali Al Habsi.

From that point on, Ireland looked capable of adding to their tally with each attack, and midfielder Anthony Pilkington and Pearce both went close with the latter seeing his 32nd-minute header cleared off the line by Hassan Al Ghailani.

But it was David Meyler who went closest to a second goal before the break when Al Habsi could only divert Brady's left-wing cross into his path and the Hull midfielder, playing at right-back, controlled before chipping his effort delicately over the goalkeeper, only to see it come back off the post.

In the meantime, Al Farsi had wasted an opportunity to level when he scuffed his shot after being put through on goal, but Oman were able to muster little in the final third despite enjoying extended periods of possession.

Rob Elliot replaced Given at the break with the older man's work for the evening done, although the Newcastle man if anything found himself even more superfluous with Oman even less penetrative than they had been during the opening 45 minutes.

The Republic were little more threatening with Doyle's wayward 55th-minute header from a Pilkington cross a rare half-chance, although Al Habsi had to react sharply to prevent Pilkington from collecting Hoolahan's intelligent pass three minutes later.

O'Neill opted for chance as the hour mark approached, with Aiden McGeady, Robbie Keane and Shane Long replacing Pilkington, Hoolahan and Doyle.

Everton winger McGeady thought he had doubled Ireland's lead within seven minutes, only for defender Mohammed Al Musalami to hack his shot off the line.

Gibson was replaced by Glenn Whelan with 20 minutes remaining after being booked for an ugly challenge on Al Farsi which might have warranted sterner action in a competitive fixture.

Victory was assured with nine minutes remaining when Pearce stabbed home from close range, and both Keane and McGeady went close as time ran down, with the latter clipping the top of the bar with a curling 89th-minute effort.

Press Association

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