It’s said that a week is a long time in politics but seemingly a few days is a very long time in soccer judging by the Republic of Ireland’s performance in their Group D 2018 World Cup Qualifying game against Serbia at the Aviva on Tuesday night.
Manager Martin O’Neill made two notable changes to his starting line-up with Wes Hoolahan and David Meyler chosen in place of Glenn Whelan and Harry Arter who were both relegated to the bench. It was like playing Online uk casinos roulette, but unfortunately it didn’t land on the right number for Ireland.
From the outset Ireland were not afraid to string passes together, often reaching five or six in succession, something they didn’t seem capable of doing based on last Saturday night’s performance against Georgia in Tbilisi.
Despite the frenzied and noisy crowd, the Serbs had the first chance of the game after just two minutes when Matic got a free shot at goal, only to be blocked by Shane Duffy.
O’Neill’s side thought they had made the early breakthrough when Duffy looked to have bagged his second goal in less than a week when he sent a clean header into the net. To the disappointment of the home crowd the linesman had his flag up for offside.
An ever-industrious James McClean was making his presence felt as he and Wes Hoolahan, who was finding time and space in midfield, were busy with sharp interchanges of play and accurate passing. Quality passing lead to an effort for the Derryman on 15 minutes, only for the visiting Serbians to knock the ball out for a corner.
Ireland produced a few other decent efforts during the first period with a long shot, the result of good movement between Jon Walters and McClean, going over the bar on 20 minutes.
The visitors looked dangerous on the break and had their opportunities in the first 45 minutes. Mitrovic was prevented from scoring by Christie following a break from the dangerous Tadic. Goalkeeper Darren Randolph dived to successfully save an effort from Mitrovic on 32 minutes as the marksman found space inside the Irish box and poked the ball goal ward.
As the first period came to a close Rukavina had a chance of breaking the deadlock as the ball was pulled back towards him from the left hand side only for the defender to shoot over the crossbar.
Ireland started to fall back into their old habit of standing off players within minutes of the second half starting – this tactic would lead to the only goal of the game. Tadic found himself on the right of the Irish box and he passed to Kostic who laid the ball on beautifully for AS Roma’s Aleksandar Kolarov to drill the ball past Darren Randolph into the home side’s net.
Ireland lost their rhythm following this blow as the team seemed rattled by the concession while the Serbians began to play with a bit of swagger.
Martin O’Neill made his first substitution on 61 minutes when replacing Wes Hoolahan with Daryl Murphy, much to the disgust of some of the Aviva Stadium crowd. Murphy was soon tackled by Maksomivoc who brought the Irishman down; the Turkish referee showed the Serbian a straight red card.
Irish pressure then saw efforts from David Meyler, later named Man of the Match, Daryl Murphy, another substitute Conor Hourihane (who replaced Meyler), and Cyrus Christie come to no avail as Ireland failed to breach the visitor’s defence.
Then home side had a penalty appeal waved away when Murphy seemed held by Mitrovic as he received a pass from Callum O’Dowda.
The overall Irish performance was still very patch and lacking an incisive final ball when the Serbians were down to 10 men. Ireland failed to show composure and didn’t create one serious chance despite the extra man advantage.
This, Ireland first defeat in the campaign, and a victory for Wales, means Martin O’Neill’s side now falls to third place in Group D with 13 points. Wales move into second with 14 points, and the Serbians have stretched their lead to 18 points at the summit of the table.
Ireland still have a home game against Moldova to come followed by a trip to Cardiff in their final game – a match which may still decide whether they finish in second position or not. Both Robbie Brady and James McClean will miss the home game as they picked up yellow cards in the latter stages of Tuesday night’s encounter.
Republic of Ireland: Randolph, Christie, Clark, Long, Brady, McClean, Hoolahan (Murphy 61), Ward (O’Dowda 71), Meyler (Hourihane 79), Walters (C), Duffy.
Subs not used: Westwood, Elliot, O’Shea, Keogh, Whelan, Horgan, Long, Hayes, Arter.
Serbia: Stojkovic (GK), Rukavina, Ivanovic (C), Mitrovic (Prijovic 79), Tadic (Gudelj 81), Kolarov, Vukovic, Millvojevic, Kostic (S Mitrovic 72), Maksimovic, Matic.
Subs not used: Jovanovic (GK), Rajkovic (GK), Obradovic, Nastasic, Tosic, Gacinovic, Spajic, Radoja, Ljajic.
Referee: Cuneyt Cakir (TUR).