James McClean’s golden touch helps Ireland waltz past Austria

Winger’s third goal in two games puts Martin O’Neill’s side on top of Group D

 James McClean celebrates after scoring the Republic of Ireland’s first goal in the World Cup qualifier against Austria   at the Ernst-Happel-Stadion in Vienna. Photograph: John Walton/PA Wire

James McClean celebrates after scoring the Republic of Ireland’s first goal in the World Cup qualifier against Austria at the Ernst-Happel-Stadion in Vienna. Photograph: John Walton/PA Wire

 

Austria 0 Republic of Ireland 1

Almost 30 years after the 1-0 win in Scotland, which paved the way to a first European Championship finals appearance, the Republic of Ireland finally beat a major qualification rival away from home with James McClean’s 47th minute strike at the Ernst Happel Stadium in Vienna sending Martin O’Neill’s men to the top of the Group D table and a significant step closer to the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

Having taken one of the very few clear cut chances they created, Ireland richly deserved their win against a side that simply couldn’t make anything of the opportunities that came their way.

Towards the end, Marcel Koller’s side threw everything they had at the visitors but Darren Randolph was rarely required to do much more than tidy up and with 20 second of the four added minutes remaining they fluffed their final lifeline when David Alaba’s cross from the left was volleyed by Julian Baumgartlinger but Marc Jamko headed well wide.

It was a miserable evening for the big striker who had earlier done much the same thing with an even better chance. Austria were little better at the back when Ireland really put it up to them.

After working so hard to stay in the game through the opening half and still having to wing it on occasion, O’Neill’s side changed the game completely in the opening minutes of the second with McClean’s goal. Kevin Wimmer surrendered possession 15 metres from the corner flag when he opted to go down in search of a free kick after David Meyler had tugged at him slightly but found himself and everyone else suddenly in trouble when play was rightly allowed to proceed.

The Tottenham left back could do nothing, though, as Meyler fed Wes Hoolahan with one 30 metre diagonal ball and the Dubliner quickly turned and played another into the path of McClean who finished confidently as Florian Klein desperately tried to scramble back and Ramazan Ozcan stood slightly rooted to his spot.

Suddenly Austria looked lost. Their collective confidence, so high after qualification for the Euros but more or less shattered at it and since, evaporated again in the wake of the goals and for a spell Ireland controlled the contest completely.

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Jon Walters looked, for a moment, to have put Ireland two up four minutes later when he headed a Robbie Brady free kick home but the striker’s celebrations were cut short by an offside flag. Through the spell that followed, though, the home side were hanging on and it took quite some time for them to steady the ship.

When they finally did, Ireland came under some pressure again but for all of Austria’s urgency, a powerful drive from Louis Schaiub moments after he had come on just short of the hour mark was about the only thing that forced Darren Randolph into a genuinely decent save.

Ciaran Clark was outstanding and several of the interventions he made ensured that the goalkeeper did not end up being troubled. In front of him, Meyler did exceptionally well after coming on for the injured Glenn Whelan but it was Hoolahan, that pass and the finish that followed which will live on in the memories of the 3,500 Irish fans who were here to see the game and celebrate the win.

O’Neill had spoken on Friday about how good a result an away draw would be regarded by virtually any international team. The fact that Ireland were still on course for a point at the break will have satisfied the Irish manager.

Austria were the better side and threatened to open their opponents up on a number of occasions but some fine last ditch defending by Clark and Seamus Coleman saved Ireland’s hide at key moment, most obviously when the Everton right back produced a brilliantly timed challenge to block Marko Arnautovic’s shot after the Stoke City midfielder had appeared to steal a critically important yard on his marker.

At that stage, Austria’s one touch passing around the edge of the area was a persistent problem for the visitors and Arnautovic was generally at the heart of it although Alaba, Marcel Sabitzer and Wimmer all caused O’Neill’s men some discomfort over the course of the 45.

Randolph, to be fair, was relatively unthreatened through all of this and though he didn’t save it, the goalkeeper gets most of the credit for half’s other outstanding chance from an Austrian point of view going a-begging.

Sabitzer posed the danger this time as he raced clear into space down the right hand side of the box but as Randolph came to close the angle, the Leipzig midfielder lifted the ball too high and it hit the crossbar. Wimmel then turned it back and Janko’s close range shot was blocked by Clark before the defence finally snuffed out the danger.

But it was not all one way traffic with Shane Duffy troubling Janko and Austria generally whenever Ireland earned themselves a set piece within range of the area and Walters ultimately passing up the best chance of the half just before it ended with the Stoke striker clipping the top side of the crossbar from six yards after Robbie Brady and Hoolahan had linked up well down the left.

It seemed likely at that stage to be another footnote in the miserable history of Ireland’s visits to Vienna. Instead, it will barely merit a mention in accounts of how the tide was finally turned.

AUSTRIA: Ozcan (Bayer Leverkusen); Klein (VfB Stuttgart), Dragovic (Bayer Leverkusen), Hinteregger (Augsburg), Wimmer (Tottenham); Baumgartlinger (Bayer Leverkusen), Alaba (Bayern Munich); Sabitzer (RB Leipzig), Schopf (Schalke), Arnautovic (Stoke City); Janko (Basel).

Subs: Schaub (Rapid Vienna) for Schopf (57 mins), Harnik (Hannover 96) for Sabitzer (73 mins), Ilsanker (Leipzig) for Wimmer (78 mins).

IRELAND: Randolph (West Ham); Coleman (Everton), Duffy (Brighton), Clark (Newcastle United), Brady (Norwich); Hendrick (Burnley), Arter (Bournmouth), Whelan (Stoke City); Walters (Stoke City), Hoolahan (Norwich City), McClean (West Brom).

Subs: Meyler (Hull City) for Whelan (24 mins), McGoldrick for Hoolahan (79 mins), McGeady (Preston North End) for McClean (85 mins).

Referee: S Karasev (Russia).

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