REPUBLIC of Ireland striker Shane Long feels his late strike against Poland could prove vital if his side are to qualify for the European Championship.
Scorers: Ireland - Long 90; Poland - Peszko 26
Substitute Long poked home from a Wes Hoolahan knockdown at a corner in injury time to rescue a point after Slawomir Peszko gave Poland the lead.
The draw leaves Ireland three points behind Poland, who top the group, while both Germany and Scotland are within touching distance.
“I think in the first 45 minutes Poland were brilliant and it took us a while to get into them. The gaffer changed the shape and from then on we were in the game,” Long said.
“We would have been disappointed not to get a draw, we could have got the win. It could be a massive point at the end of the campaign.
“Losing three points is massive, so to keep them within touching distance is big. I think we need to be wining our home games, we need make it a fortress, but the main thing is not to lose. We will take the draw.”
Southampton frontman Long’s 91st-minute strike – the 12th goal of his senior international career -–snatched a 1-1 draw with the Group D leaders, who remain unbeaten as they attempt to book a trip to France.
Peszko’s 26th-minute opener had looked to be enough to keep the Poles in the driving seat for one of the two automatic spots, but Long’s intervention denied them at the death in a classic game of two halves.
Ireland manager Martin O’Neill had admitted in the run-up to the match that defeat would represent a “big dent” to his side’s hopes, and a tepid first-half display in front of a raucous crowd swelled by a large contingent from Ireland’s sizeable Polish community did not augur well. But the response after the break was concerted and was eventually rewarded to set up a potentially pivotal showdown with Scotland at the Aviva Stadium in June.
Burnley left-back Stephen Ward had been struggling to shake off an ankle problem and Hull winger Robbie Brady was asked to deputise. That was a gamble which was ultimately to backfire as Peszko exploited the 23-year-old’s lack of international experience in the role.
After a scrappy start to the game, it was the Poles who settled the better with Grzegorz Krychowiak orchestrating from the middle of the field and wide-man Maciej Rybus linking well with striker Robert Lewandowski, who had a relatively quiet first half.
With only Wes Hoolahan showing any signs of real intent for the home side, the visitors dominated possession to leave Robbie Keane starved of the ball and Poland goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski untroubled for much of the opening 45 minutes.
Hoolahan dragged a left-footed shot wide from 20 yards with ten minutes gone, but Krychowiak should have done better when he met Rybus’s 20th-minute free kick only to steer his header harmlessly wide.
Ireland fell behind with 26 minutes gone when Brady dallied and Peszko dispossessed him before surging past covering defender Marc Wilson and blasting a left-footed shot across Shay Given and inside the far post.
O’Neill needed a significant response, and it came belatedly, if in limited fashion, at the end of the half. Ireland enjoyed an extended period in enemy territory which ended when winger Aiden McGeady chipped a delicate effort over the stranded Fabianski, but saw the ball fly agonisingly wide of the far post.
O’Neill kept the same 11 men on the pitch at the start of the second half, but asked Hoolahan to move to the left side of midfield as Jon Walters joined Keane up front. Although that helped to give his side a stronger foothold, openings failed to materialise.
That changed seven minutes into the half when Brady’s deflected cross looped over Fabianski, only to come back off the inside of the post.
Ireland gradually built up a head of steam and Fabianski was relieved to see Wilson’s 64th-minute header fly straight into his waiting hands.
Eight minutes later, Keane sent a downward header from substitute James McClean’s cross towards goal, but the Los Angeles Galaxy forward was also denied by the post.
However, Ireland rescued a point at the death when Long, an 83rd-minute replacement for Glenn Whelan, was in the right place at the right time as Hoolahan’s header dropped to him, and he lifted the ball over Fabianski.
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