Daryl Murphy kills off Moldova but the hunt moves on to do-or-die Cardiff tie
AND so now to Cardiff. The Republic of Ireland kept their side of the bargain with Wales to set up a showdown with Chris Coleman’s team on Monday night after securing a final group home win over Moldova.
Two early goals from Daryl Murphy, taking his Ireland tally to three, killed off any chance of a shock result from Moldova, who will finish bottom of Group D.
Importantly for manager Martin O’Neill, his side finished with their energy, fitness and discipline intact. Wes Hoolahan got a rest and none of the six players on yellow cards will miss Monday’s game, which is now a winner-takes-all final encounter.
Wales’ 1-0 victory in Georgia earlier in the day meant Ireland needed a win over Moldova to keep that scenario alive.
And for all that it turned into a drab affair, it was the comfortable three points O’Neill and his players would have taken beforehand. As well as the supporters for that matter.
It was over as a contest in seconds really. There was one minute 40 seconds on the big screen clocks when Stephen Ward launched a long throw-in from the left. Ireland were in front four seconds later.
Early strike. Daryl Murphy's second goal for Ireland makes it 1-0 after a minute pic.twitter.com/rns6G12Vob— RTÉ Soccer (@RTEsoccer) October 6, 2017
Centre-backs Ciaran Clark and Shane Duffy were in the area to get a touch to Ward’s almighty hurl, while Petru Racu and Alexandru Gatcan were sent to the near post to defend it.
Clark and Duffy flew themselves across the Moldovan defenders, but the last touch appeared to come off Gatcan’s back. Murphy somehow managed to stretch his leg around Alexandru Epureanu and poked the loose ball past Ilie Cebanu, despite the keeper’s scrambling efforts on his goal-line.
The early goal settled the home team, and the Aviva crowd, immediately taking the tension out of an evening which had all the potential to be awkward for O’Neill and his men.
And while still settling into the game and the shock and delight of the early lead, Ireland created a couple of opportunities which only narrowly missed the target. Callum O’Dowda started brightly on the left but fired his first shot of the night into the sidenetting from the right. He then returned to the left and provided a chance for Shane Long which skimmed Cebanu’s post and sent a water bottle flying behind his goal.
The second goal also came from that side of the pitch and Ward was again the provider, this time with his more customary and reliable left foot.
After an excellent move Daryl Murphy gets his second of the evening with a sublime finish pic.twitter.com/XqCSjFFsuc— RTÉ Soccer (@RTEsoccer) October 6, 2017
The Burnley left-back powered down to the by-line to catch Hoolahan’s lovely searching pass before supplying a deep cross which Murphy stretched to reach and headed back across Cebanu who was caught out of position on his line. It looped perfectly over the Moldova keeper and into the side of the net.
Ireland could have added to their two-goal cushion before the break but Clark headed a Jeff Hendrick free-kick wide, Duffy did the same with a Hoolahan corner while Cebanu reacted well to keep out a close range effort from Long from Hendrick’s surging run and through ball.
Moldova did have their moments and in fact Darren Randolph pulled off the save of the night just after Murphy’s second to keep out a top-corner-bound half volley from Sergiu Platica. The Ireland keeper also had to make a smart save to deny Radu Ginsari.
The game won, most of the Ireland players preserved their energy in a non-event of a second-half and when Moldova started to dominate possession, home fans started to chant “attack, attack, attack”. It was either that or the dreaded Lansdowne Mexican Wave, which almost materialised in the last 20 minutes.
There were more Ireland chances to improve the goal difference, however. The best fell to Long who missed an open goal in the 61st minute when a combination of O’Dowda and Hoolahan eventually got the ball to him. The build-up was as messy as his instinctive finish which went the wrong side of the post.
Randolph meanwhile made a couple of leaps and catches to prevent the lonely Ginsari from causing any damage and comfortably gathered substitute Eugeniu Cociuc’s ambitious effort.
Once settled in his own mind that the game was settled, O’Neill made his changes in the 79th minute, following lengthy consultation with assistants Steve Walford and Roy Keane, who looked particularly restless and unhappy during the second period.
The Ireland manager had decided to risk Ward, Duffy, Meyler and Cyrus Christie, who were all a caution away from missing the Wales clash but they never looked in danger of being cautioned.
The only booking came for Harry Arter who was sent on for Murphy to bolster the midfield and was involved in a late skirmish with Gatcan. The Moldovan midfielder lost his cool completely after Arter was carded, headbutted the Bournemouth midfielder and was shown the red card by Dutch referee Bas Nijhuis.
Aiden McGeady replaced Hoolahan, keeping the Norwich playmaker fresh for Monday and earning him a deserved ovation. But the biggest cheer of the night was reserved for Sean Maguire, who made his Ireland debut as Long’s replacement and had an eight-minute cameo.