Ireland's new blood lifts the mood for happy O'Neill
Ireland 4 USA 1
This was the right kind of distraction, an enjoyable game of football to end an enervating week on a positive note for Martin O'Neill.
November friendlies have a reputation for being about as enjoyable as a cold sore but, in the long winter break, reflection on this exercise will give the Ireland manager some comfort.
His fate will be determined by performances at the Aviva Stadium in 2015 and it felt more like home last night as an overhauled team turned on the style in the dying stages to put an emphatic look on the winning scoreline against an experimental American selection.
O'Neill will know that the decisive tests with Poland and Scotland will be tighter contests, but the attacking ambition on show here will encourage him greatly.
In particular, it appears that debutant David McGoldrick has the vision to unlock defences and the Derryman thinks he can become even more effective when he reaches peak fitness following an interrupted summer.
He assisted goals for Anthony Pilkington and deputy left-full Robbie Brady and while there is always a danger of getting carried away by one good display, there is an obvious temptation for O'Neill to throw him into the competitive tests ahead.
Late goals by James McClean and Brady put a gloss on the scoreline; Shay Given was called into action to keep Ireland ahead in a good spell for the visitors midway through the second half. Still, the report card had far more pluses than minuses and O'Neill wore a broad smile as he shook hands with Jurgen Klinsmann.
On the five year anniversary of Thierry Henry's handball, the only anger on show last night was in the first half behind the goal of Given - the only Irish survivor from Paris in the starting XI. Furious Ireland fans, who blame the FAI for the problems which left a number of regulars without tickets for Friday's defeat in Scotland, sang songs about chief executive John Delaney and were prevented from unveiling banners by security.
On the pitch, the challenge for an O'Neill side with 11 changes from Scotland was to put in a display to lift spirits. He rewarded fringe players for attendance and seized a chance to monitor debutants Cyrus Christie and McGoldrick. "They epitomise what we are trying to do and that's add quality to the squad," said their boss.
Over the past week, O'Neill has struggled to disguise his optimism about the impact the latter could make and within seven minutes that judgement was vindicated as the 26-year-old dropped into the pocket between midfield and attack, collected a pass from Anthony Pilkington and then executed the one-two with a superb through ball that was brilliantly converted by a clever flick from the Cardiff winger.
O'Neill paired McGoldrick with his Ipswich colleague Daryl Murphy and their familiarity with each other was evident in a makeshift side featuring Robbie Brady at left back, skipper David Meyler in the centre of the park next to Stephen Quinn and then Pilkington and Stokes on either flank. McGoldrick was pushed forward alongside Murphy and was frequently the foremost Irish attacker.
Alex Pearce, selected alongside Ciaran Clark in the centre of defence, had to be alert to rise ahead of US skipper Jozy Altidore as the red shirted visitors pushed for a leveller although they nearly fell further behind when Murphy was denied by Bill Hamid.
But the game's second goal did go to the away side and the genesis was Meyler getting caught in possession and the US striking with intent. Altidore's lob was cushioned by Chris Wondolowski into the path of Mix Diskerud who did the rest. The Rosenborg player scored against Sligo Rovers in the Europa League in the summer.
Ireland had a rough spell before the break. Brady, standing in for Stephen Ward, looked like an unnatural defender as he was caught under a cross and the sprightly Alejandro Bedoya teed up Altidore for a shot against the bar.
"We were tentative at times in the first half," said O'Neill.
He made no changes at the break and it was Altidore who threatened again with his right footer blocked by Given. The overlapping Christie, a busy presence at right full, responded by cheering the locals with another spirited advance.
Ten minutes into the second half, it was the other newcomer that grabbed the spotlight again to help the white shirts forge ahead. This time, it was American messing that proved costly as they ran into trouble at their own corner flag, Irish bodies pressed and the ball eventually made its way to McGoldrick whose reverse pass was gathered and dispatched by the onrushing Brady.
"Robbie can improve defensively at back," said O'Neill, "But he's a great player with great attitude and our full backs gave us great options."
A sharp warning was delivered at the midpoint of the half when a routine punt outfoxed Pearce and Clark and sub Bobby Wood raced through only to be thwarted by a fine Given stop.
Team USA were in the ascendency as the game entered its final quarter with Christie tested defensively. Clark threw himself in front of Diskerud when the midfielder was allowed to waltz to the edge of the area and Given got down well once more to keep out Greg Garza.
The Irish bench began to have an impact, though, with Aiden McGeady dangerous and Shane Long's arrival stretching the visitors as they committed bodies and after a thrilling break from the Southampton man ended in agony when his shot struck the post, the ball stayed in play and a shot from another sub, McClean, found the net via a deflection off Geoff Cameron.
Brady saved the best for last, stepping up to dispatch a technically perfect free kick over the wall and into the top corner.
Shay Given: A solid showing from the veteran netminder who was unable to prevent Mix Diskerud's first-half strike and made two fine saves after the interval to keep Ireland ahead - 7
Cyrus Christie: The new recruit will keep Seamus Coleman on his toes anyway. He showed a willingness to get forward and really grew into the game after half-time. One or two small issues defensively - 7
Alex Pearce: Earned a pat on the back from Given for two timely first-half headed interventions and put himself about throughout - although the USA did create quite a few chances - 7
Ciaran Clark: Will be unhappy he got caught under one long US ball forward in the second half where Given bailed him out but he worked hard to keep Ireland in front - 6
Robbie Brady: Some obvious defensive discomfort before the interval yet he gave his side another dimension breaking forward after the interval and set piece brilliance capped it off - 8
Stephen Quinn: He worked really hard and his pressing was a factor in some strong Irish moments after the break. A bit slow to close down a couple of US strikes from long range - 7
David Meyler: The stand-in skipper was guilty of a howler in the build-up to the American goal and that could colour the perception of a display where his mobility was a bonus. He will do better with more games under his belt - 6
Anthony Pilkington: He's a very capable player on his day and illustrated his talent with a superb finish to break the deadlock. The Cardiff winger continued to probe thereafter and can be very happy with his hour on the park - 7
David McGoldrick: This was just what O'Neill wanted from his second new face and he lived up to his big reputation and several positive references with two smart assists to earn a warm ovation from crowd and make a big case for future - 8
Anthony Stokes: Some sympathy for the Celtic man as he is not a natural left winger and found it hard to make any impact from his station. That said, his pressure did play a part in the second goal before he was taken off - 6
Daryl Murphy: The in-form striker linked well with McGoldrick and can also be satisfied with how he played. But there will be lingering frustration that he's waiting for a first Irish goal after coming close twice - 7
Aiden McGeady (for Stokes, 59 mins): Gave the Americans plenty of problems during his time on the park and was warmly received - 7
James McClean (for Pilkington, 64 mins): A great option off the bench and added his fourth Irish goal - 7
Shane Long (for McGoldrick, 76 mins): Set a challenge by the man he replaced and his pace was central to late charge - 7
Jeff Hendrick (for Murphy, 76 mins): Tough night on Friday but got back on the horse with OK showing here - 6
Rob Elliot (for Given, 84 mins): Not on long enough to rate
Martin O'Neill: Considering he changed his entire side, O'Neill will be extremely happy with his evening's work and the reaction from Friday. He now has some welcome selection dilemmas for the seismic tests at this location in 2015 - 7
The game at a glance
Man of the match
David McGoldrick (Ireland): Did well on his debut. Calm and composed in setting up first two Irish goals and worked diligently throughout.
Robbie Brady's nicely-taken goal in the 55th minute, and again, good work by McGoldrick with the reverse pass to set up the Hull City man to score.
This was a morale-boosting win for sure but we're still a long way from making Aviva Stadium a fortress for visiting teams.
Robbie Brady's stunning left foot curler over the wall from a free kick for goal number four.
Pawel Raczkowski from Poland kept a firm grip on the game.
What they said
Robbie Brady (Ireland goalscorer): "It was a good result for us and it was good for me to get 90 minutes under my belt. I don't usually play left wing-back so it was a good experience. Our two new boys, Cyrus and David, were excellent. David did really well for the goals."
Yellow cards: Ireland 1 (Meyler, 92); USA 3 (Beckerman, 36, Altidore, 65, Cameron, 84)
Red cards: Ireland 0; USA 0
Corners: Ireland 6 (2 in first half); USA 11 (7 in first half)
Shots on target: Ireland 7 (2 in first half); USA 8 (4 in first half)
Ireland will play Poland at home on March 29, 2015 in a crucial Euro 2016 qualifier.