Serbia 2 Ireland 2: Daryl Murphy rescues a point in Belgrade
Bogged down Irish performance full of errors but O’Neill’s side come away with a point
Daryl Murphy scores the Republic of Ireland’s second goal. Photo: Marko Djurica/Reuters
The performance might be one that the fans will want to forget but the point that Ireland took at the Red Star stadium in Belgrade marks the opening game of this new World Cup qualifying campaign out as a mission accomplished. Ireland showed grit both to hold out for so long under Serbian pressure as they sought to defend an early lead and then come from behind when their resistance had finally been broken.
The goals came from Jeff Henrick and Daryl Murphy, international firsts for the pair of them, and Ireland, to be fair did what they had to, even late on when Seamus Coleman scrambled the ball off the line with Darren Randolph beaten. Still, there was an element of good fortune about this draw. The visitors rode their luck more than once and might and really should have been put away while already 2-1 down when a Randolph error as he sought to save from Filip Mladenovic was comfortably eclipsed by Andrija Pavlovic who hit the bar from close range when presented with an open goal.
Ireland will not complain, especially after the home side got what looked a dubious penalty but Serbia will watch the match back and wonder quite how those other two points got away from them.
They handicapped themselves, of course, by conceding a terribly soft goal before things had even settled but they dominated for the most part and had more than enough chances over the course of the night to make sure of the win.
The game had actually been in doubt for a while beforehand and the conditions seemed to contribute to that early goal with Serbia struggling to clear a Robbie Brady free into the area despite a couple of chances to do so. Jon Walters looked as though he might get onto it first time but when he couldn’t quite make contact Shane Long touched the ball to Hendrick on the edge of the area from where his shot squeezed through a mass of bods and beyond Predrag Rajkovic in the Serbian goal.
The game was barely three minutes old at that stage but it still seemed to shake up a Serbia side who dominated most of the of the half and caused Ireland quite a few problems from wide positions without ever being able to produce the finish they needed.
A lot of the Irish defending was body on the line stuff with Coleman, John O’Shea and Richard Richard Keogh hurtling themselves into the path of dangerous looking balls at one point or another. Glenn Whelan spent a good deal of his time adding to Irish presence immediately in front of Randolph’s goal although even then he had the odd scare, most obviously just before the break when he pushed Dusan Tadic’s low ball in from the right straight to the feet of Aleksandar Mitrovic who simply didn’t react quickly enough and O’Shea started the process of getting the ball away.
Brady, though, was the one who tended to turn defence into attack with the 24-year-old turning in a performance to be proud of on the night he inherited Robbie Keane’s number 10 shirt. The 700 or so fans who had travelled celebrated their departed hero in song early in the first half but Brady, playing in central midfield, put himself at the heart of the team here in a way that Keane simply never could.
As those around him struggled to string passes together so as to retain the ball, the Dubliner was winning it and using it well. Among his highlights was the follow up to a free eight minutes before the break when Walters, again, nearly turned his ball home but Rajkovic saved well and the Serbs broke, dangerously it seemed until the midfielder found an extra yard of pace to nip in front of Tadic then turn and get Ireland moving forward once more.
It wasn’t a flawless night for him and the booking he picked up in the second half after needlessly kicking the ball away may well prove costly as the campaign rolls on.
Here, the break in play that accompanied the incident and Brady’s subsequent removal from the pitch for a bit of treatment provided a few moments respite from the Serbian pressure but the locals were still not doing much to actually trouble Randolph and Slavoljub Muslin brought on Pavlovic for the largely ineffectively Mitrovic.
Within a couple of minutes it was 1-1 with the unmarked Filip Kostic converting from close range after good work by Tadic who capitalised on poor defending and by the 70th minute the locals were in front with Kostic, again, taking the opportunity to go down as Walters passed behind him just inside the box. Tadic coolly put the spot kick away.
Now needing to get themselves back on the front foot Ireland did just that and thought they had squared it against when Hendrick’s cross was turned home by Walters only for the goal to be disallowed for offside. Instead it was Murphy, who came to the rescue, forcing a decent save from the erratic Rajkovic before beating with a powerful header from eight meters after Brady had picked him out with a curling corner.
Ireland will have to play an awful lot better if they to get out of the group but if they do, the point here and the damage the draw does to the Serbs, just might help them do it.
Serbia: P Rajkovic; Ivanovic, Nastasic, Vukovic; Rukavina, Gudelj, Milivojevic, Mladenovic; Tadic, A Mitrovic, Kostic. Pavlovic for Mitrovic (59 mins), Katai for Kostic (82 mins)
Republic of Ireland: Randolph (West Ham); Coleman (Everton), O’Shea (Sunderland), Keogh (Derby County), Ward (Burnley); Whelan (Stoke City), Hendrick (Burnley), Brady (Norwich City), McClean (West Brom); Walters (Stoke City); Long (Southampton). Subs: Quinn (reading) for Ward (69 mins), Murphy (Newcastle United) for Hendrick (75 mins), Clark (Newcastle United) for Long (90 mins)
Referee: V Kassai (Hungary).