Goals from Johnny Walters, Cyrus Christie and James McClean ensured Martin O’Neills men go into next weeks crunch World Cup Qualifier in flying form as they brushed aside a tough Uruguayan side at the Aviva.
Following the 3-1 midweek defeat against Mexico, when Martin O’Neill experimented with what seems to be an “in fashion” three at the back, but it was back to basics for the Irish side with the crunch game against Austria just days away.
Prior to the game O’Neill promised name a closer 11 to the one that would start next week and this was the case with just three players retaining their place, Darren Randolph, Shane Duffy and Cyrus Christie the lucky ones. La Celeste (The Sky Blue One) would provide formidable opposition. Despite not being on the best run of form themselves, three defeats and conceding seven but a front line that included PSG hitman Edinson Cavan, who hit 35 goals this season, was always going to be a big test. Luckily for the “Boys in Green” this was not the case.
The home side started much the brighter, with the midfield three of Jeff Hendrick, Harry Arter and Glenn Whelan dominating possession. Ireland went within inches of taking the lead following a short corner routine that allowed Robbie Brady to swing in a dangerous whipped cross to the far post but a lunging Shane Duffy couldn’t get anything on the ball.
The visitors were dealt a massive blow just seconds later when talismanic front man Cavani was forced off with a hamstring injury, subsequently being replaced by Middlesborough’s Christhian Stuani.
The boys in green eventually got the goal their bright start deserved when skipper for the day Jonathan Walters notched in the 27th minute. There looked to be some confusion between Walters and Whelan as the latter looked for a one-two, but the front man needed no second invitation to shoot as Uruguay’s defence stood off, delightfully floating his right foot effort from outside the box brilliantly into the top corner.
Uruguay responded well and equalized just minutes later as Jose Gimenez rose highest to loop a header over Darren Randolph. The warning signs had been coming, as just before the goal, hit the bar through a Martin Caceres header.
There was still time for one more chance right before half time, and what a chance it was. A deep cross from Cyrus Christie found Robbie Brady at the back post, and on the stretch, hit a first time cross across goal. And with the whole goal at his mercy, Walters somehow scuffed his side foot effort onto the bar from just two yards out when it looked harder to miss!
Ireland made two subs at the break with Randolph being replaced by Kieren Westwood and Wes Hoolahan replacing Whelan, who won his 80th cap, as Martin O’Neill looked to get support to Walters who looked isolated at times.
It didn’t take long for Ireland to regain advantage, just four minutes into the second half in fact, when Cyrus Christie cut in on his left foot, following some nice touches down the right. Christie had been impressive up to this point low shot trickled into the far post giving the blinded Conde no chance.
A spate of substitutions slowed the momentum of the game and it was the visitors who began pushing for the equalizer. Firstly, Stuani had a goal disallowed for the narrowest of offsides, quickly followed by an outstanding save from Westwood to deny Gimenez his second.
The introduction of James McClean paid immediate dividends when he hammered home to put Ireland 3-1 up. Following Hoolahans interception, Brady played an exquisite through ball to the substitute McClean and, after showing Gimenez a clean pair of heals, kept his composure and smashed a low drive into the far corner. Almost identical to his breakaway goal against Austria.
And that was enough to kill the game as a contest as Ireland ran out 3-1 winners in the end with serious business to come next week.
Rep. of Ireland: 23. Darren Randolph (1. Kieren Westwood), 2. Cyrus Christie, 17. Stephen Ward, 18. Kevin Long, 20. Shane Duffy (3. Alex Pearce), 6. Glenn Whelan (14. Wes Hoolahan), 10. Robbie Brady, 13. Jeff Hendrick (11. James McClean), 22. Harry Arter, 25. Johnny Hayes (7. Aiden McGeady), 19. Jon Walters (c) (9. Daryl Murphy)
Subs: 1. Kieren Westwood, 16. Colin Doyle, 3. Alex Pearce, 4. John O’Shea, 5. Richard Keogh, 7. Aiden McGeady, 8. Callum O’Dowda, 9. Daryl Murphy, 11. James McClean, 12. Andy Boyle, 14. Wes Hoolahan, 15. Conor Hourihane, 21. Eunan O’Kane, 24. David McGoldrick, 26. John Egan, 27. Daryl Horgan, 28 Alan Browne
Manager: Martin O’Neill
Uruguay: 12. Esteban Conde, 16. Maximiliano Pereira (C) (3. Federico Ricca), 2. Jose Gimenez, Sebastian Coates, Martin Caceres, 5. Carlos Sanchez (14. Nahitan Nandez,), 17. Egidio Arevalo Rios, 15. Matias Vecino, 6. Diego Laxalt (4. Alejandro Silva), 8. Jonathan Urretaviscaya, 21. Edinson Cavani (11. Cristhian Stuani)
Subs: 23. Gaston Guruceaga, 3. Federico Ricca, 4. Alejandro Silva, 9. Diego Rolan, 11. Cristhian Stuani, 13. Gaston Silva, 14. Nahitan Nandez, 18. Mathias Corujo, 20. Alvaro Gonzales
Manager: Oscar Tabarez
Referee: Craig Thompson (SCO)
Man of the Match: Harry Arter