Amber offers green light but Bell demands improvement
Ireland 2 Slovakia 1
Ireland survived a scare to eventually conquer Slovakia in their Women's World Cup qualifier at Tallaght Stadium, but manager Colin Bell admitted that his players will have to step up a gear to have any chance of beating Holland next Tuesday.
The Dutch will come to Tallaght as joint-leaders of the group, having matched Ireland's result yesterday by beating Northern Ireland, and Tuesday's clash may decide who progresses to the finals automatically.
France in 2019, even via a play-off, became a little closer into view for Ireland after they dug deep to overcome the resolute basement battlers thanks to Amber Barrett's winner four minutes from full-time.
All had gone swimmingly for Ireland up to last night, winning two games and drawing in Holland, but they made life difficult for themselves at a wind-swept Tallaght and needed Barrett's late intervention to avoid a major setback.
Slovakia, without a point and only two goals from their four fixtures, managed to frustrate Ireland for 69 minutes until Leanne Kieran raced clear from Diane Caldwell's pass to find the breakthrough.
That roused the crowd of 3,500 for only four minutes as Ireland goalkeeper Marie Hourihan conceded her first goal of the campaign in calamitous fashion by scoring an own-goal. Jana Vojtekova, a former player of Bell's at German club SC Sand, sent in a cross that deflected off Hourihan's shin and dropped into the net.
Barrett, on the pitch for only eight minutes, supplied the rescue remedy in the last of an attacking wave at the end.
Karen Duggan, redeployed to left-back in place of the injured Harriet Scott, set up the crucial goal with a high ball.
Donegal native Barrett read the pass perfectly, brushing off her marker 10 yards out to blast her a shot into the corner of the net.
"It was a scrap out there today, not helped by the windy conditions, but the players showed character to find the winner," said Bell afterwards.
"Amber's introduction gave us something different up front and she delivered when it mattered.
"We didn't get any shots on goal in the first half and played more intelligently as the game progressed. Although the equaliser set our players back, they showed plenty of character.
"Holland will be an entirely different game. They weren't happy to drop points against us and want not just to win here in Dublin but thrash us. We'll be ready for them."
IRELAND - M Hourihan (Manchester City); S Perry-Campbell (Brighton & Hove Albion), L Quinn (Arsenal), D Caldwell (SC Sand), K Duggan (Peamount Utd); N Fahey (Bordeaux), M Connolly (Florida State); R Littlejohn (Celtic), D O'Sullivan (North Carolina Courage), K McCabe (Arsenal); L Kiernan (Shelbourne). Sub: A Barrett (Peamount) for Littlejohn (78).
Referee - Simona Ghisletta (SUI)