Euro 2016 Group D Qualifier: Long shot keeps Ireland’s hopes alive

Shane Long celebrates his equaliser
Ireland 1 Poland 1

The Republic of Ireland had to rely on a last gasp dramatic equaliser against Poland at the Aviva Stadium last Sunday (29th) evening. But substitute Shane Long’s priceless injury-time strike against his Southampton teammate and Polish goalkeeper Fabianski prevented a second consecutive defeat in the competition against the Group D leaders and maintain their qualification hopes. However Poland still lead Germany and Scotland by a point but Long’s effort keeps Ireland in the hunt a further two points behind. Ireland were first to threaten when man-of-the-match Wes Hoolahan took advantage of a quickly taken free-kick to surge towards Lukasz Fabianski’s goal, but scuffed his shot wide.

Ireland soon on the backfoot

But with Grzegorz Krychowiak prompting the Poles they started to dominate and went ahead with their first effort on target after 26 minutes. Robbie Brady dallied on the ball and Slawomir Peszko pounced to dispossess him, surge past Marc Wilson and smash an unstoppable left-foot shot across Shay Given and inside the far post.

Given was handed a surprise comeback appearance after his post Euro 2012 international retirement. But Hoolahan was given the responsibility of creating his team’s scoring opportunities with his trademark midfield artistery while Robbie Brady lined out at left back in a very attacking line-out.

Brady was unlucky when his deflected 52nd-minute cross looped over Fabianski and came back off the inside of the post. However the introduction of second-half impact subs James McClean and striker Shane Long helped save Ireland from what looked like a second consecutive defeat and possible elimination from the competition. Ireland manager Martin O’Neill brought on Long nine minutes from time and he proved the saviour as he forced the ball home in the last minute after Hoolahan had headed on a Brady corner into the Southampton striker’s path for an equaliser that could have a huge bearing on the team’s hopes for Euro 2016 qualification.

Afterwards Martin O’Neill admitted that Ireland must now beat Scotland in their next qualifying match in the Aviva Stadium on 13 June. Six day before that Ireland face England at the same venue and with the recent announcement of the end of his international exile, Aston Villa’s 2014 Ireland U21 Player of the Year award winner Jack Grealish could be set to make his senior debut.