Friday 18 August 2017

Walters rescues crucial point as Ireland keep World Cup hopes alive

Ireland 1 Austria 1

Football Soccer - Republic of Ireland v Austria - 2018 World Cup Qualifying European Zone - Group D - Aviva Stadium, Dublin, Republic of Ireland - June 11, 2017 Republic of Ireland's Jonathan Walters celebrates scoring their first goal Reuters / Clodagh Kilcoyne Livepic EDITORIAL USE ONLY.
Football Soccer - Republic of Ireland v Austria - 2018 World Cup Qualifying European Zone - Group D - Aviva Stadium, Dublin, Republic of Ireland - June 11, 2017 Republic of Ireland's Jonathan Walters celebrates scoring their first goal Reuters / Clodagh Kilcoyne Livepic EDITORIAL USE ONLY.

John Brennan

Ireland's World Cup hopes are still alive after Jon Walters secured a point against Austria in the Aviva Stadium with a late equaliser just when Ireland looked dead and buried.

Walters, who ran his heart out all evening, latched onto yet another of the hopeful long balls fired at him, and without half a second to shoot and six inches of the goal to aim at, the Stoke man arrowed his shot to the corner of the net.

The goal cancelled out Martin Hinteregger's 31st minute goal for the visitors, who needed to win this match and who are now out of the running. To qualify they would have to take five points more than Ireland from the four qualifying games that remain.

The Boys in Green are still alive, but this was, by a distance, the worst performance of these World Cup games. For long spells, Ireland were disjointed and disorganised.

You wondered what these players had been doing in a week-long camp before the big match with players waving and finger-pointing at each other as passes went astray, moves broke down and set-pieces were anything but effective.

Yes, conditions were difficult with a strong wind blowing straight down the pitch, but that did not explain Ireland's lack of command of the basics.

The manager cannot be exempt from criticism either. His call to use Jeff Hendrick as the most forward of a five-strong midfield backfired badly. Hendrick hadn't a clue what he was doing, failing utterly to support Walters against four Austrian defenders who strolled through the first period.

It was only when, ten minutes after half-time, Martin O'Neill took off Stephen Ward, put Robbie Brady at left-back and went to a 4-4-2 with Newcastle striker Daryl Murphy supporting Walters that Ireland got a foothold in the match.

James McClean and Harry Arter both blazed half chances wide, but with only 20 minutes to go, Ireland still had not had managed a shot on target in a home, competitive international.

The need for a goal screamed out for Wes Hoolahan and at last he got on for Arter. When that paid no immediate dividend, Aiden McGeady was brought in for Glenn Whelan as Ireland continued to batter at the white defensive wall that the Austrians had erected.

At last Ireland at least took a few bricks out. Kevin Long, a surprise choice by O'Neill at centre-half did get forward to head a Robbie Brady corner goalwards, but Stefan Lanier scooped the ball off the goal-line.

It seemed that the big chance had come and gone. But that was to reckon without Walters, who yet again did his country some service.

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