The Republic of Ireland and Austria finished Honours even at the Aviva Stadium in their World Cup qualifying game on Sunday evening.
A late goal in a man of the match performance from Jon Walters saw Ireland rescue a point in this crunch fixture, and remain unbeaten in this World Cup qualifying campaign.
In the build up to the game, talk had been that the visitors would be without a number of key players, and in a sense, it was seen, by some, that they were there for the taking, believing Ireland should win all three points from the fixture.
In a tense first half possession was shared, but the Austrians, however, were more accurate in terms of goal-attacking and finished the opening half with a goal scored from two on-goal efforts.
Eventual man of the match, Jon Walters, was made aware early on of the Austrian defensive presence – the Irish striker only being awarded a handful of frees despite the close attention, and fouling, of the away side. A Robbie Brady free kick in the 14th minutes came from an infringement on the said Walters, only for the Austrian wall to successfully defend the Irish free.
The first real Irish effort came in the 22nd minute. A step over from striker Walters of Glen Whelan’s through ball saw Stephen Ward take possession out on the West Stand wing of the ground. Walters meanwhile made his way into a central attacking position to receive the expectant cross. Unfortunately from an Irish viewpoint when the striker regained possession of the ball, he sent his effort high and wide to the right of the posts without troubling the Austrian net minder Heinz Lindner.
A corner eight minutes later for Austria led to the only goal of the first half. The ball was swung in low by David Alaba and was kicked on. Stephen Ward lost him man, and as the ball was swept into the Irish box, Martin Hinteregger finished nicely from 10 yards out, scoring his second international goal.
At the beginning of the second period the Irish team began creating some chances. Shane Duffy’s long ball was knocked down by James McClean, only for Harry Arter to fire his shot wide of the left-hand post, again without troubling the goalkeeper.
Martin O’Neill soon decided to introduce Daryl Murphy (for Stephen Ward) to the field, and he was involved in a nice movement which saw him win the ball about 40 yards out from the Austrian goal. James McClean then gained possession of the ball, but again failed to find the target.
Wes Hoolahan was then introduced, in place of Harry Arter, to loud cheers from the crowd. The Dubliner was immediately involved in the action when he crossed from the right of the pitch, his shot causing problems for the Austrian full-back, Stefan Lainer, who almost turned the ball into his own net, only for an alert and agile goalkeeper.
The last twenty minutes of the tie saw sustained Irish pressure, which looked, for a while, as though it wouldn’t be rewarded. Kevin Long saw his headed effort cleared off the visitors’ line, before McClean had a rush of blood and blasted an excellent chance wide.
The breakthrough for Ireland finally came with only 6 minutes of normal time remaining. Aleksander Dragovic allowed a ball to bounce when it was more advisable not to; Jon Walters beat the defender to the ball, and his snap shot sent the ball into the bottom corner of the Austrian net for his 14th International goal, and his 11th at home.
Despite the best efforts of the home side to secure the three points, a controversial refereeing decision went against them when Daryl Murphy’s header from a corner was blocked, the ball looped into the air, and was sent into the net by Shane Duffy. Referee David Fernandez Borbalan of Spain decided, to the disgust and anger of the home fans, that a free kick out should be awarded for a foul, in his opinion, on the Austrian defender.
Irish fans felt their team was then denied a penalty when Walters looked to have been fouled while in the process of shooting on goal.
Overall a draw seemed a fair result with Austria showing themselves to be a stronger team than expected considering the absence of a number of key players. The Republic of Ireland remain unbeaten in this qualifying campaign and sit on 12 points, second in the group, on goal difference, behind Serbia. Wales are third and Austria fourth respectively, both four points behind Ireland.
Republic of Ireland: Randolph (GK), Christie, Whelan (captain) (McGeady 76), Brady, McClean, Hendrick, Ward, Long, Walters (Murphy 56), Duffy, Arter (Hoolahan 70).
Subs not used: Doyle (GK), Westwood (GK), Pearce, O’Shea, Keogh, O’Kane, Horgan, Hourihane, Hayes.
Austria: Lindner (GK), Lainer, Dragovic, Hinteregger, Alaba, Kainz (Gregoritsch 89), Junuzovic (Grillitsch 78), Baumgartlinger (captain), Prodl, Burgstaller (Harnik 74), Lazaro.
Subs not used: Bachmann (GK), Kuster (GK), Wimmer, Laimer, Stangl, Schaub, Klein, Danso, Alar.