Coleman injury casts a shadow over stalemate
Ireland 0 Wales 0
This was the type of game where a tackle was always going to be a talking point. Hard going on the pitch and, in truth, hard going off it for the full house of spectators.
Neil Taylor's horror challenge on Seamus Coleman which resulted in a red card and an extremely serious injury for the Irish captain was the main discussion point from a grim derby.
It changed the focus of a match which was heading for a draw that might just have suited a depleted Irish panel.
With an extra man, they did push for a winner for the remaining 20 minutes but their pressure ultimately led to nothing.
John O'Shea honestly admitted afterwards that they didn't create enough to really feel any sense of injustice.
Coleman's torment removed any gloss from the outcome. It could seriously compromise his involvement in the rest of the campaign, with O'Neill describing it as a 'bad break' of his right leg. "We're all devastated for him," said the Irish boss.
The longer-term prognosis will determine the tone of the post-mortem. Ultimately, the league table was the only attractive consequence of this exercise.
Serbia's impressive win in Georgia earlier in the day means they join Ireland at the top of the group on 11 points.
It's four points back to Austria and Wales on seven each and they will be playing catch-up for their respective trips to Dublin and Belgrade in June.
Wales will be without Gareth Bale for that key round of fixtures as he was booked for a reckless challenge on O'Shea just before the Coleman incident; the Italian referee Nicola Rizzoli could easily have reached for a red on that occasion and prevented what happened next.
O'Neill was reluctant to go into it before catching the replays. Most of his reflections afterwards were taken up by discussion of Coleman's woe. That said, he did admit to being satisfied with the overall position in the group - if not the performance that delivered this point.
"There are five games gone, it's exactly halfway and if you'd said to me, with two games at home and three away, that we would have 11 points on the board, I'd have taken that," said O'Neill.
Wales have drawn four in a row and that frustration was evident in a performance which, from their perspective, lost direction from early promise.
After all the anticipation, the first half was a phoney war until the dying stages with no shots fired on target and plenty of aggro with Stoke colleagues Glenn Whelan and Joe Allen squaring up after the Irishman appeared to leave an elbow in during a tackle.
Wales were able to field the side that knocked Belgium out of Euro 2016 last summer, arguably their finest hour. The only Euros throwback from an Irish perspective in the first quarter was a rendition of the Icelandic clap from the natives.
Otherwise, a selection lacking real invention huffed and puffed without ever gaining any control on the game.
"I don't think we played well in the first half, it was sloppy and we surrendered possession to them too easily," said O'Neill.
The pumped-up James McClean, no doubt emotional after a range of tributes to Ryan McBride, did level Bale with one fine tackle but physical challenges were the only thing that the natives were really executing well even if they rode a fine line on occasion.
Sheer endeavour did win a couple of free-kicks in the opposition half, yet they were making the pitch look very big by struggling to retain possession with Shane Long frequently isolated.
James McCarthy pulled out after the warm-up, feeling pain in his hamstring, and David Meyler was sent in to partner Whelan; their primary role was defensive with Bale and Aaron Ramsey dropping into that area.
They did break up some Welsh attacks, but Ireland sat very deep and often went for the predictable punt in an attempt to just get out of trouble.
We have seen this game before and the invention of Robbie Brady, Wes Hoolahan or even Harry Arter was missed. "I think the problems we had with players did affect us," said O'Neill.
Wales kept the ball better and threatened with a couple of diagonal passes with left wing-back Taylor miscontrolling an exocet from Bale. Darren Randolph was given very little to do, though, with Irish bodies working hard to get back.
Despite being deployed as a right winger in a 4-2-3-1, Jon Walters functioned as an auxiliary right full-back on a number of occasions and that just about summed up the way the pendulum was swinging at that juncture.
The crowd needed something to get them going, and a couple of tunes from a brass band were pumped through in a PA in a cringe-inducing attempt to manufacture an atmosphere.
What the punters wanted was a game to create the real thing.
After an hour of dour, Ireland did start to impose with McClean prominent although Bale did wriggle into to space to unleash a long-range warning that fizzed wide; all his shots came from distance including a late scare when Richard Keogh erred.
The slight turning of the tide was evidenced by the fact that Coleman was cut down 25 yards from goal with Rizzoli quickly pulling the red card from his pocket.
After a long stoppage, O'Neill sent for Cyrus Christie and then Aiden McGeady in an attempt to exploit the space that suddenly opened up. Wales dug in, now cast in the role of the protagonist happier with parity.
The sprightly McClean had Ireland's best opportunity, a deflected effort that trickled agonisingly wide of the post but, in the end, this was an encounter that neither side was good enough to win.
Ireland - Randolph; Coleman (Christie 72), Keogh, O'Shea, Ward; Whelan, Meyler (McGeady 79), Walters, Hendrick, McClean; Long.
Wales - Hennessey; Chester, Williams, Davies; Gunter, Allen, Ramsey, Ledley, (Richards 72) Taylor; Bale, Robson-Kanu (Vokes 45).
Ref - Nicola Rizzoli (Italy).