Jon Walters heeds Martin O’Neill’s words of warning
Ireland forward: ‘It’s a win, we’re happy with where we are, but there’s a long way to go’
Jon Walters missed a golden chance to double Ireland’s lead in Austria. Photograph: Inpho/Ryan Byrne
Jonathan Walters is refusing to cast even one eye towards Russia despite helping the Republic of Ireland climb to the top of their World Cup qualifying group with victory in Austria.
Ireland’s 1-0 win in Vienna on Saturday evening, coupled with Serbia’s 1-1 draw in Wales a couple of hours later, saw Martin O’Neill’s unbeaten side go two points clear at the top of Group D with four games played.
That will remain the case until hostilities resume in March next year when the Welsh make the short trip to Dublin for a potentially key contest, but Walters insists there is simply too far to go to start getting excited.
The Stoke striker said: “We’ve got 10 points from the first four games, drawing away to Serbia and coming to places like this.
“We’ve started the campaign really well but we’ve got some huge games coming up in March and next summer.
“It’s a win, we’re happy with where we are, but there’s a long way to go.”
For all Walters’ caution, there were several causes for celebration in Austria - it was Ireland’s first away win over a higher-ranked side since they beat Scotland in 1987, but it was also their fourth victory over a team rated better than them by FIFA inside the last 13 months.
It came courtesy of a fine counter-punch which left the hosts, who dropped only two of a possible 30 points in qualifying for the Euro 2016 finals, flailing.
Marcel Koller’s side had dominated the first half and were unfortunate not to be ahead when Marcel Sabitzer’s 39th-minute effort came back off the crossbar.
But they were behind within three minutes of the restart when substitute David Meyler, on for the injured Glenn Whelan, broke from his own half and fed Wes Hoolahan, whose pass to James McClean was perfectly timed and weighted for the winger to race away and thump a low shot inside the far post.
It was McClean’s third goal in two qualifiers and came at the end of a week during which he had worked tirelessly to overcome a back problem.
Walters said: “It was a good goal by James, and a clean sheet. To come to a difficult place like this and win is great. They’re a very good team and we’ll take the three points all day.
“We have a nice break going to March and it is always nice going into the break with a win.”
Shane Duffy was just as pleased with the clean sheet as the win after his error in Moldova last month handed the home side an unlikely equaliser, and he is confident there is more to come from his fledgling central defensive partnership with Ciaran Clark, which now amounts to three games and just one goal conceded.
He said: “It should be three clean sheets. It was obviously a stupid goal.
“I enjoy playing alongside him and the more we play, the better we’ll become. We’re quite similar, we like to defend, and that’s what we’re in there for.”
Like Walters, Duffy knows there could be many twists and turns before the final shape of the group emerges and while Austria, who flopped at the Euros, are currently well off the pace with just four points from as many games, he saw enough at the Ernst Happel Stadium to suggest they could yet have a significant say.
He said: “No, they’re never gone. With the quality they have, they can go and win every game from now to the end. That’s what they have, they’ve had a tough period after the Euros and maybe they lack confidence.
“There is a still a long way to go, but it’s a good start for us. It’s a tough place to come — not many teams will come here and beat them.”