Ireland stumble past San Marino

 

San Marino 1 Republic of Ireland 2:The Republic of Ireland have sunk to what could be their lowest ebb ever with an ugly and pedestrian last minute win over Euro 2008 qualifying Group C opponents San Marino. 

The hosts almost scored the biggest upset of their history with a late equaliser from Manuel Malina that may well have spelled the end of Steve Staunton's tenure as Irish coach. But Manchester City's Stephen Ireland  - one of the few to emerge from the game with any credit - scored the winner with almost five minutes injury time played.

Kevin Kilbane had headed Ireland in front after 49 minutes.

Staunton's job is most definitely on the line after a performance in which there were absolutely no positives, and which comes so soon after the debacle in Cyprus in October when Ireland were hammered 5-2.

Ireland huffed and puffed in the first half and struggled to string a move together.  Passing and possession football were very barely visible as Ireland failed to create a clear cut opportunity. They dominated throughout, but the football they served up was distinctly average.

When there was a sight of goal, after Ireland's put Keane through the middle, the Spurs striker screwed the ball tamely wide. In fact, San Marino goalkeeper Aldo Simoncini, who had conceded 13 goals to Germany in his last competitive outing in, was forced into just four saves from 11 shots in the first half, none of which looked like beating him. 

Damien Duff too was completely ineffective in the first half, running across the San Marino defence, head down, and never looking likely to create a clear chance for Keane or Shane Long, whose touch let him down too often, but who worked hard nonetheless. 

By the break there were boos from the 2,500 visiting supporters, suggesting they are becoming increasingly disillusioned with the Staunton era.

There was a response after the interval, with the deadlock broken in the 49th minute following a fine right-wing ball from Steve Finnan. Long managed to flick the ball on to the far post where Kilbane headed home his seventh goal for his country.

That should have been the cue for a glut of goals, but the famine failed to turn into a feast.

Duff did showed something in the 56th minute when he retrieved a Harte free-kick from wide on the left that cleared the heads of everyone in the area.

With a burst of speed he surged past two defenders before driving a right-foot shot across the face of goal to the far post where Keane failed to connect from a yard out.

But again Ireland failed to build, and instead conceded in the 86th minute when Marini capitalised on a mix-up between half-time substitute Paul McShane and goalkeeper Wayne Henderson.

At that point San Marino stood on the brink of history as they had previously lost all 37 of their European Championship qualifying matches.

Instead, they were robbed thanks to Ireland, who pounced from close range to finish off Shane Stokes's deflected effort.