Jeff Hendrick gave Mick McCarthy a winning start to his second spell in charge as the Republic of Ireland launched their Euro 2020 campaign with a narrow victory in Gibraltar.
Hendrick’s first international goal since September 2016 ultimately settled a tight encounter fought out on a plastic pitch in swirling winds at the Victoria Stadium in front of the man who famously led the nation to the 2002 World Cup finals.
It was far from pretty on a night when Ireland dominated possession against a team consisting largely of part-time footballers, but created few clear-cut chances.
However, they left having banked three Group D points, the minimum requirement heading into Tuesday night’s clash with fast-improving Georgia at the Aviva Stadium.
The lack of inspiration which plagued the latter days of Martin O’Neill’s reign remains an issue, and although the difficult conditions had a part to play, McCarthy knows it is a failing which must be addressed if his team are to qualify for the finals.
Gibraltar started brightly and saw ambitious appeals for an early penalty waved away after midfielder Liam Walker blasted a shot into a mass of white shirts.
Keeper Darren Randolph could have been forgiven for being distracted four minutes in when a plane took off from the airport runway just a couple of hundred yards behind his goal.
However, it was opposite number Kyle Goldwin who had cause for concern as David McGoldrick sent a seventh-minute volley over the bar, although he was able to get his hands on Richard Keogh’s stabbed effort after Hendrick had fired across the penalty area four minutes later.
Shane Duffy only just failed to reach Conor Hourihane’s 15th-minute free-kick as Ireland started to dominate possession, although McCarthy on the sidelines could be heard repeatedly urging his players to move the ball more quickly.
They would have taken the lead in fortuitous circumstances with 28 minutes gone had it not been for Goldwin’s excellent reactions.
Seamus Coleman made the most of the space he and Matt Doherty were being afforded down the right to send in a driven cross which defender Roy Chipolina could only head towards his own goal, prompting the keeper to instinctively throw out a hand and somehow turn the ball over the crossbar.
Ireland were struggling to find space in the final third, but they did just that five minutes before the break when Sean Maguire laid the ball into Coleman’s path and his low cross was just about smuggled away before McGoldrick could pounce.
However, as the half-time whistle sounded, Goldwin remained unbeaten and Irish frustration unbroken.
Indeed, it might have grown significantly within seconds of the restart when Chipolina powered a header towards goal from Walker’s corner and Randolph reacted smartly to repel his effort.
Jeff Hendrick strokes the ball home after a nice move from @FAIreland
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The Republic’s nerves were settled just three minutes later when Hourihane played McGoldrick into space down the left and he cut into the penalty area before looking up and rolling the ball into the path of the fast-arriving Hendrick, who swept his first-time shot inside the far post.
Ireland were considerably more composed as they set about the task of cementing their lead with Robbie Brady added to the mix in place of Doherty, although their advantage might have disappeared with 64 minutes gone when Lee Casciaro curled a shot across Randolph but just wide of the far post.
Randolph was pleased to see Keogh, playing with a lightweight cast on his broken right hand, take the sting out of Walker’s 75th-minute drive and Ireland saw out time with few real scares.
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