Ireland all but clinched a place in this Summers European Championships with an emphatic 4-0 victory over Estonia in Tallinn.
Goals from Keith Andrews and John Walters and a brace from Captain Robbie Keane mean that the return leg in the Aviva on Tuesday will be more of a celebration than anything else for Giovanni Trapattoni’s men.
The hosts were in it for an hour but fell away after Walters had put Ireland two up and eventually finished the game with nine men.
As expected Walters was selected to partner Keane up front and he was immediately into the action firing a long range shot just over after three minutes.
Aside from that effort Estonia maintained most of the possession in the early exchanges without ever really threatening Shay Given in the Irish net.
Than on 13 minutes Ireland grabbed the vital away goal. Keane played it wide to McGeady on the left and the wingers pinpoint cross was headed in by Andrews.
The goal seemed to spur Estonia into life with Dimitri Krugalov and Tarmo Kink looking dangerous down the flanks.
Still it was a game of very few chances and Dunne and St. Ledger in particular did an excellent job in limiting the Estonians to long range shots that were for the most part comfortably dealt with by Given.
Walters continued to be lively and fired over from an acute angle after Andrews played him in. That passage of play served to highlight Irelands struggles going forward as Walters was all on his own without support.
Things became easier for Ireland when Andrei Stephanov was sent off for a second bookable offence. Unlike against Armenia there was no controversy about this red card as Stephanov upended Robbie Keane as he went through. In truth the Estonian could have easily received a straight red for the challenge.
However, Estonia did not roll over and the Irish were unable to make them pay as they continued to rely too much on long balls from the back rather than exploiting the extra man.
That certainly seemed to be message from Giovanni Trapattoni at half time as Ireland came out for the second half and immediately put together their best move of the match so far.
Patient build up in midfield allowed McGeady to play in Stephen Ward on the overlap. Ward’s low cross found Keane whose shot hit cannoned off the unaware Klavan. The ball rebounded to Damien Duff whose shot was saved low by Sergei Pareiko.
Andrews was then forced off temporarily with a blood injury. His absence allowed Estonia back into the game and they won a free kick on the edge of the area.
Vassiljev took the free but his shot was blocked by Dunne and from the resulting corner Ireland were able to clear.
Still Ireland looked nervy and this was never more evident than when Whelan and Duff collided on the edge of the Estonia box. Duff stayed down and was eventually replaced as a precaution.
What Ireland needed was a second to calm the nerves and it eventually came on 66 minutes with Walters picking up a well-deserved goal.
Macready’s shot was parried and Keane was first to react. He dinked a ball to the back post where Walters headed in from close range.
After that Ireland were in control and they added a third just five minutes later. Andrews free kick bent wickedly in the air and goalkeeper Pareiko only managed to stick a leg out to block it. The fall fell beautifully for Keane who side footed home to put the Ireland in control.
Piiroja was then sent off after handling on the edge of the box and the game was over as a contest. There was still time for Ireland to add a fourth after Hunt was fouled in the box. Keane fired home from the penalty spot to cap off a memorable night for Ireland.
Man of the Match: Keith Andrews, his best performance in an Irish shirt by far. Took his goal well and tried to get involved as much as he could.