Russell and O'Sullivan get Girls in Green off to a flyer
IRELAND 2 SLOVAKIA 0
IRELAND recovered from a turgid start against Slovakia at the Carlisle Grounds to get their qualifying campaign off to a perfect start.
Second-half goals from Julie-Ann Russell and substitute Denise O'Sullivan saw off the resilient visitors and set up Sue Ronan's girls nicely for the trip to Croatia for Thursday's second part of the qualification double-header.
Aware that only victory would suffice to challenge for a play-off spot, third seeds Ireland looked to attack from the off but were frustrated by a lack of cutting edge.
Shannon Smyth's clip over 'keeper Maria Korenyova on the stroke of the break which trickled wide of the post was the closest they came to forcing a breakthrough.
The elusive goal eventually arrived in the 56th minute. A foul on Fiona O'Sullivan 30 yards out on the left side gave Russell the chance to unleash a free-kick that sailed into the far corner past Korenyova.
Emma Byrne, earning her 99th cap in the Ireland goal, survived a scare 14 minutes later when the unmarked Alexandra Biroova headed wide from eight yards.
Four minutes later, that miss was punished by the Girls in Green as Denise O'Sullivan added a second with her first touch. Another substitute, Sophie Perry, created the chance by crossing from the right and there to nod home was Glasgow City's recent signing.
"Our team looked nervous in the first half but I felt we finished the game strongly enough to have won by more," said Ireland boss Ronan.
"We struggled to break them down. Still, the win was all we wanted heading into our second game in Croatia."
IRELAND – Byrne (Arsenal); Cooke (Raheny United), Tracy (Arsenal), Caldwell (Avaldsness), Campbell (Florida University); Smyth (Amazon Grimstad), Graham (Raheny United), Littlejohn (Glasgow City); De Burca (Eskilstuna United), F O'Sullivan (SC Frieburg), Russell (Peamount United). Subs: Perry (Brighton and Hove Albion) for Cooke (60), D O'Sullivan (Glasgow City) for Graham (70), O'Gorman (Peamount United) for Littlejohn (82).
SLOVAKIA – Korenciova; Biroova, Matysova, Harsanyova, Vojtekova; Ondrusova, Cerovska, Skorvankova, Feckova; Klechova; Bartovicova.
Ref – P Larsson (Sweden).