Wednesday 26 October 2016

Master class from wizard Wesley

World Cup qualifying Group D: Moldova 1 Ireland 3

Republic of Ireland's Wes Hoolahan. Photo: Reuters
Republic of Ireland's Wes Hoolahan. Photo: Reuters
James McClean slots home Ireland’s second goal in the World Cup Group D qualifier against Moldova in Chisinau.

There can be no further argument about Wes Hoolahan.

Ireland's only true midfield magician gave a command performance in Moldova and showed that he can be trusted in an away match.

It is something to think that before last night, he had only started three times in competitive games away from home since Trapattoni's time. That must change.

Martin O'Neill cannot have seen better evidence that he needs to trust Hoolahan - home and away.

The night began so well when Georgia managed to snag a point in Cardiff, underlining O'Neill's assertion that this group will be nip and tuck all the way.

O'Neill was adamant that a draw in Belgrade and a win in the Aviva against Georgia were much greater achievements than he or his team have been given credit for and that now carries the ring of truth.

After just two minutes of this one, he had more evidence to back up his claims as the 300 Irish fans squirrelled way in the corner of the compact FC Zimbru stadium erupted out of their seats roaring in appreciation as Shane Long wheeled away from the Moldovan penalty area, arms aloft and his 18 game goal. Drought over.

It was the perfect start and crafted by the mesmerisingly clever feet of Hoolahan, involved twice in the move but notably when he slipped a fabulous through ball to James McClean who put Long in with only the goalkeeper the beat.

So once again, as in Belgrade, Ireland found themselves ahead early and with the game stretching in front of them, but this time Wessi was on the pitch.

Moldova were visibly taken aback by conceding so early and Ireland poured forward looking for a second goal with Hoolahan in the middle of everything that was good.

An intricate little passing move between Hoolahan, Seamus Coleman and James McCarthy on the right ended with a low cross which McClean connected with but sent wide.

If Hoolahan was inspirational Coleman wasn't far behind, patrolling the right wing as if he owned it and setting up another decent chance after dancing through two tackles on the right side of the box before teeing one up for Long whose shot was blocked by Vitalie Bordian.

It was mostly one way traffic with Moldova unable to get the ball and when they did get forward, a blanket of green shirts snuffed out anything threatening.

Ireland ended the half in attack mode and pushed ever further forward up the pitch but with the game in injury time and Ireland comfortably in control, Moldova broke forward in spectacular style with Igor Bugaev.

Shane Duffy pushed too far forward and was caught badly when the ball squirted to Bugaev who out-sprinted everyone else, moved into the Irish box and beat Darren Randolph easily. It was a ridiculous goal to concede and the worst possible end to a half totally dominated by Ireland.

The first blows of the second-half were hardly encouraging either with Moldova, emboldened by such a well-timed equaliser, went straight on the offensive.

Randolph had to smother a 25 yarder from Vadim Bolohan and suddenly Ireland were under serious pressure, ceding ground and possession until Hoolahan lifted a mini-siege with a great run forward and shot which was gathered by Nicolae Calancea.

He had another chance in the 57th minute when a deflected Long cross dropped invitingly in front him but he had a rare fresh air.

Still it kept the momentum building back in Ireland's favour and as the half progressed, they began to reassert the level of control they enjoyed for the first 45 minutes.

Just after the hour, Long went down clutching his hamstring and was replaced by Callum O'Dowda with Walters switching to a more central attacking role and McClean onto the right flank.

The switch paid an almost immediate dividend.

After a series of probing efforts by Hoolahan, McCarthy won the ball 30 yards out and sent a low cutter into the penalty area. .

The ball got caught in Walters feet but he stepped aside for McClean to slot the ball to the net.

In the 78th minute, McClean wrapped up the points with his second. Hoolahan slipped a pass to Coleman who jinked into the box to the byline and cut a cross back for the West Brom man to side-foot home.

With legs flagging and the game won, O'Neill subbed out McCarthy and Hoolahan, giving David Meyler a run and Eunan O'Kane a brief cameo.

All in all, a good night and with Serbia winning against Austria, Group D has taken on a very wholesome look.

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