Daryl Murphy’s double leaves all the cards on the table
Martin O’Neill’s side now head to Cardiff and a Group D showdown with Wales
Ireland’s Daryl Murphy celebrates scoring his first goal. Photograph: Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters
Republic of Ireland 2 Moldova 0
There may, as the cliché suggests, be no such thing as an easy game in international football but Moldova at home, it seems, is as close as they come. Ireland display a strange ability sometimes to make heavy weather of beating opponents like these but for once their win was entirely straightforward. If only it could be like this on Monday night in Cardiff.
The stats might actually suggest this was a fairly even encounter. Moldova passed the ball around the place neatly enough and enjoyed good spells of possession in the second half as Ireland sat back for spells and let them at it but, having the conceded the game’s two goals, both scored by Daryl Murphy, within 20 minutes, the visitors simply didn’t have the wherewithal to get themselves into things. Darren Randolph had a fair bit of tidying up to do at times but he was only forced into one save of note, when Sergiu Platica directed a shot from the edge of the area towards the top left corner in the 27th minute, but he made that one rather well.
The locals, by contrast, should have had a few more goals and Shane Long must have wondered, as he made way for Seán Maguire, towards the end just how he hadn’t managed even one. Murphy’s were enough to see the team through, though, and there was clearly no attempt to chase the big win that might have fractionally reduced the admittedly long odds against them nicking top spot in the group with a win over the Welsh.
They led, in any case, within 90 seconds or so and, for once, never seriously looked back. Shane Duffy was breathing down Petru Racu’s neck as a long Stephen Ward throw came in and, under pressure, the defender headed the ball on in the direction of his own goal. It then fell to Platica to deal with but Murphy was firmly on his case and the striker wrapped his left leg almost around his opponent to get enough contact on the ball to push beyond the helpless goalkeeper.
This was the fourth occasion in this campaign that Ireland had scored in the opening five minutes but only one of the others had ended with a win and so, briefly, it seemed too soon to make any assumptions. Steadily, though, it became apparent that the Moldovans weren’t entirely at the races.
Under little enough pressure, both full backs seemed free to press forward almost at will and Ward had a particularly good first half. Around him, a changed team employing much the same tactics as against Serbia, settled into things well. In terms of passing and possession it was all rather even but collectively Ireland were able to impose themselves on their opponents and the hosts had all of the game’s standout players, most obviously Murphy but also Wes Hoolahan who was full of invention and played a key part as O’Neill’s side persistently posed the more serious threat going forward.
The manager again underlined his willingness to back players who he believes in with Callum O’Dowda starting, and the winger did well enough on the left, showing an eagerness to get on the ball and an ability at times to use it cleverly as when he squared to Long for a shot that should, at least, have hit the target. Murphy, meanwhile, played like a man possessed at times, chasing down opponents and seeing the potential, it seemed, to engineer something out almost any situation.
Had Long been on form, Ireland would surely have been four-up by the break and the Southampton striker might even have had a hat-trick on the hour. Instead, it was the Nottingham Forest player, with only goal for his country coming into this game, who made the home side’s position look pretty safe when he finished a terrific move on 20 minutes. Hoolahan sent Ward into space with a long, angled cross-field ball and the full back’s cross floated over the a crowd of defenders before falling to the Waterfordman whose looping header back to the left-hand top corner was textbook stuff.
It was still early but a little of the urgency seemed to go out of the home side’s game after that and though they created a couple of chances in the second half – Long unlucky this time to to see his first time, slightly improvised effort go in after O’Dowda’s shot had been blocked – there was a sense for long spells that they were seeing the game out.
The crowd certainly seemed to sense it and large numbers of them took to amusing themselves by shining lights from their mobile phones towards the pitch. In the end, the only drama in the late stages was the sending off for Alexandru Gatcan for leading with his head in an altercation with Harry Arter.
O’Neill was a little slower than might have been expected in the circumstances to make changes but Murphy and Hoolahan were both replaced and both must surely start again in Cardiff after their displays here. All will have to step things up if they are to beat a much, much better side but when they have given themselves a chance to do it more than once during O’Neill’s time in charge, they have seized those sorts of chances.
REPUBLIC OF IRELAND: Randolph (Middlesbrough); Christie (Middlesbrough), Duffy (Brighton), Clark (Newcastle United), Ward (Burnley); Meyler (Hull City); Hendrick (Burnley), Hoolahan (Norwich City), O’Dowda (Bristol City); Long Southampton), Murphy (Nottingham Forest). Subs: Arter (Bournemouth) for Murphy, McGeady (Sunderland) for Hoolahan (both 79 mins), Maguire (Preston North End) for Long (83 mins)
MOLDOVA: Cebanu; Rozgoniuc, Racu, Epureanu, Bordian; Pattica, Gatcan, Anton, Ionita, Dedov; Ginsari. Subs: Cociuc for Dedov (55 mins), Ambros for Platica (79 mins),
Referee: B Nijhuis (Netherlands).