McClean brace powers Ireland past Moldova
Moldova 1-3 Republic of Ireland
Republic of Ireland moved second in World Cup qualifying Group D after a 3-1 victory in Moldova tonight.
Martin O’Neill’s side were ahead after just two minutes with Shane Long opening the scoring after racing onto Wes Hoolahan’s through ball.
However, after dominating proceedings, they were pegged back in added time at the end of the half by Igor Bugaev’s first strike since June 2011 and Moldova’s first goal of the campaign.
The visitors hit back after the break though thanks to James McClean’s second-half double to claim their second win of the campaign, moving to seven points and just behind group leaders Serbia on goal difference.
Knowing a win would put them in an excellent position in Group D following Wales’ earlier draw with Georgia, Ireland made the perfect start as Hoolahan’s pass released Long and he curled the ball past Nicolae Calancea and into the far corner.
O’Neill brought in Hoolahan and Glen Whelan following the 1-0 victory over Georgia last Thursday, and his side were well and truly on the front foot in the opening stages and nearly doubled their advantage in the 13th minute but McClean fired wide from James McCarthy’s cross.
The visitors continued to threaten with Seamus Coleman standing a cross up to the far post for Long, but the Southampton striker’s header was blocked by Vitalie Bordian.
Whelan then fired wide from the edge of the penalty area before McClean’s free-kick sailed over the bar as Ireland did everything but extend their advantage.
And it came back to haunt them as Moldova, who rarely threatened in the opening 45 minutes, found themselves level in added time at the end of the first-half. With Ireland caught high up the field, Bugaev raced onto Alexandru Gatcan’s through ball and picked out the far corner with a cool finish.
Buoyed by their finish to the first half, Moldova resumed in confident mood and went close within two minutes of the restart when Alexandru Dedov cut inside from the left and thumped a dipping right-foot shot into Randolph’s midriff.
The Ireland keeper’s evening became more uncomfortable two minutes later when he could only punch a high ball to Eugen Zasavitchi under pressure from Gatcan, but the midfielder’s first-time shot was well blocked by Ciaran Clark.
A concerted response was required and it started almost immediately with McClean getting his head to a Jonathan Walters cross, but failing to trouble Calancea, who then had to field Hoolahan’s skidding 54th-minute shot.
O’Neill was forced to make a change with 28 minutes remaining after Long went down clutching his hamstring and was replaced by winger Callum O’Dowda, a move which saw Walters promoted to the lone striker role.
Perhaps sensing a rare positive result, Moldova retreated as they attempted to cling onto a point, but succumbed with 69 minutes played when Ireland finally calmed fraying nerves.
Hoolahan picked out McCarthy on the edge of the box and although his shot was weak, it fell to Walters who controlled the ball and then stepped aside for McClean to slot it into the bottom corner.
Moldova visibly wilted and they were hit again within seven minutes. Hoolahan nutmegged a Moldovan defender allowing Coleman to carve his way into the penalty area and chip the ball across to McClean, who volleyed it sweetly past the helpless Calancea to wrap up the points.
All in all Irish fans will be happy with tonight’s result. O’Neill faced an injury crisis ahead of these qualifiers and six points from a possible six is certainly a positive. Youngster Callum O’Dowda impressed tonight while Wes Hoolahan proved his worth once again putting in a Man of the Match performance.
The Boys in Green face a tricky trip away to Austria next month but won’t lack believe after these results.
Moldova: Nicolae Calancea; Igor Armaş (Victor Golovatenco 36), Andrei Cojocari, Alexandru Gaţcan (C), Alexandru Dedov,Vitalie Bordian, Veaceslav Posmac, Vadim Bolohan, Gheorghe Andronic (Sidorenco 83), Igor Bugaev, Eugen Zasaviţchi (Eugenie Cebotaru 61).
Ireland: Darren Randolph; Seamus Coleman (C), Shane Duffy, Ciaran Clark, Stephen Ward; Glenn Whelan, James McCarthy (David Meyler 81), James McClean, Jonathan Walters, Wes Hoolahan (Eunan O’Kane 86); Shane Long (Callum O’Dowda 62).
Referee: Jakob Kehlet (Den).