A disappointed Daryl Murphy after Ireland’s defeat to Serbia in their 2018 FIFA World Cup Qualifier at the Aviva Stadium. Photo: Inpho.
As the Irish faithful left the Aviva Stadium on Tuesday night last, they were left wondering whether the opportunity of appearing at the World Cup in Russia next year had flashed before their eyes after a narrow loss against Serbia in their crunch Group D decider.
On a night that saw four well-known local members of the Waterford football family who passed away in recent months honoured by the FAI before the game, it was the defeat on the field that overshadowed the remarkable support of FAI CEO John Delaney.
Tommy Drohan, Michael O’Callaghan, Noel Burke and Marky Lucas were remembered by the Association prior to the game with their family members and football friends part of the large crowd that really tried to get behind the Irish team from start to finish.
With many of these families sitting in the West Stand level of the ground, they all had a great vantage point for a game that Ireland just needed to win after the dejection of dropping two points against Georgia the previous Saturday evening but it just wasn’t to be.
Ireland manager Martin O’Neill made a number of changes to the side for the visit of the Serbians with the inclusion of Wes Hoolahan and David Meyler making a big difference to an Irish side that more than held their own during the opening 45 minutes.
Shane Duffy, who found the net against Georgia, did have the ball in the back of the Serbia net as early as the 10th minute but his header was ruled out correctly for offside as Ireland tried to take the game to their opponents from the opening whistle.
The passing was slicker and the energy in the Irish team seemed on the money in the early stages of the game with striker Shane Long cracking in a shot four minutes after the disallowed goal only to see the Serbian keeper Vladimir Stojkovic make a fingertip save.
Irish keeper Darren Randolph was called into action to make a smart intervention to deny Aleksandar Mitrovic as the first half entered the final ten minutes before the game began to swing in favour of Serbia in the early stage of the second half.
With Ireland caught in possession of the ball, Kostic played the ball into the path of Aleksandar Kolarov on 55 minutes and his stunning left-footed effort flew past keeper Darren Randolph with the aid of the underside of the crossbar to break the Irish hearts.
This goal really took the sting out of the Irish performance with the Aviva left silenced before the introduction of Waterford native Daryl Murphy on 62 minutes really gave the hosts a boost and within six minutes of coming on, he caused panic in the Serbian defence.
After racing onto a ball over the top from Robbie Brady, Murphy raced for the ball with Serbia defender Nikola Maksimovic and when the striker hit the ground, Turkish referee Cuneyt Cakir produced a straight red card but Brady’s resulting free kick failed to trouble the visiting rear guard.
The whole of the Aviva Stadium were to their feet screaming for what looked a stonewall penalty that TV replays confirmed on 76 minutes when Murphy caused more problems in the penalty area where it looked as if he was clearly fouled but somehow referee Cakir waved play on.
There was one final chance for Daryl to leave us all celebrating a late equalising goal as with 86 minutes on the clock, he got free inside the area but his snapshot was palmed away by the Serbian keeper as the Irish dream of reaching Russia evaporated on home soil.
Moldova visit Dublin on October 6 in what is a must win game for the Irish before a trip to Wales and a must needed three points three days later will decide the fate. It’s not over yet but the result in Lansdowne Road last Tuesday was one that we just didn’t need.