Weather warnings, a plastic pitch, Tony O’Donoghue’s notes being blown onto an airport runway: Gibraltar went out of their way to make things as miserable as possible for Mick McCarthy on his return to the Republic of Ireland dugout in the Victoria Stadium.
That didn’t stop phrases like “a guaranteed three points” and “a comfortable three or four-nil win is what we’re looking for” being bandied about the RTÉ studio before kick-off, though.
While the three points were earned, it was far from comfortable, so we had a look to see how Mick and the lads fared — with a special mention to the outstanding contributor to proceedings in Gibraltar.
El Victoria Stadium de ?? Gibraltar está a un costado del aeropuerto. Y en un partido eliminatorio para la Eurocopa se pueden ver imágenes como esta: pic.twitter.com/Xq9z1oo0VT
— ?Ñ??? ⚽ (@InakiFutbol) March 23, 2019
The easyJet pilot – 10
Conor Hourihane may have walked away with the man of the match award, but without a doubt, the most exciting moment in the game was seeing a plane take-off in the background just two minutes in. Textbook taxiing, confident progression on the runway. 10/10, we certainly would fly easyJet after this.
Darren Randolph – 7
It was a miracle Randolph didn’t freeze solid in a first-half which gave him nothing at all to do. He could hardly have been blamed had he been too stiff to make that stunning one-handed reflex save from Roy Chipolina’s bullet header a minute after the restart. It kept the game goalless and ensured Ireland left with all three points. He started the move which led to the winner too.
Seamus Coleman – 6
With question marks about Coleman’s place in the side following the emergence of Matt Doherty, the Ireland skipper needed a big performance. He was solid and created Ireland’s best chance of the first half when his cutback was inadvertently diverted goalward by a Gibraltar defender, forcing a world-class reaction save from Kyle Godwin. Some attempted link-up play between Coleman and Doherty showed promise but ultimately yielded no end product.
Richard Keogh – 6
In the shadow of the Rock of Gibraltar, Keogh demonstrated true grit by playing through a broken hand. McCarthy was unruffled when questioned about the injury pre-match. “He’s just popped it back in and kept playing, he’s fine,” the gaffer revealed. A solid defensive performance through the pain barrier, paying homage to other resilient greats like Bert Trautmann and Stuart Pearce.
Shane Duffy – 6
Apart from a poor back pass which ceded a needless corner early on, Duffy didn’t put a foot wrong, snuffing out whatever came his way. Looked like he wanted to deck Tjay De Barr in the 54th minute when the lad blatantly jumped into him to win a free-kick. Some say Duffy is still disgusted over that (as well as the fact your man just doesn’t spell his name T.J.).
Enda Stevens – 5
More of a threat than James McClean down the left-hand side. Caught out by an awkward bounce at the start of the second-half which led to Gibraltar winning a corner and fashioning their best chance of the game — Randolph had to bail him out by making the save. Silly yellow card for kicking the ball away in the 66th minute to stop a quick Gibraltar free-kick.
Matt Doherty – 5
Pre-match, people wondered how Coleman and Doherty could best be accommodated in the same side. McCarthy decided to play both. But, out of position on the right-flank, Doherty struggled to replicate his Wolves form. Attempts to combine with Coleman down the right-side came to nothing and barring a nice lay-off for a David McGoldrick volley early on, he was unable to make an impact.
Jeff Hendrick – 7
An industrious display from the Burnley midfielder capped off with a goal. His perfectly timed late run into the box saw him well placed to supply a nonchalant left-foot finish from McGoldrick’s cutback. Top marks for the celebration too, wheeling away while cupping his ear at the airport behind the pitch as if to say: “Come and get me, easyJet!” A sponsorship deal is brewing.
Conor Hourihane – 8
Barring a ‘foul’ on Anthony Hernandez at the start of the game (*cough*, he dived) and a lapse in concentration to allow Lee Casicaro a chance to equalise in the second-half, Hourihane was tremendous and deserving of the Man of the Match of award. Excellent set-piece delivery, some important challenges and tidy use of possession throughout. The Aston Villa midfielder was also at the heart of the move which led to the all-important winner.
James McClean – 4
Anonymous. Most notable first-half contributions were drawing a foul which got Casicaro booked and then getting booked himself for going in late on the same player. At one point, we thought it was Aiden McGeady in disguise. He would only have been quieter if he’d been pitted against Gibraltar’s greatest ever player: Danny Higginbotham.
David McGoldrick – 6
A game of few chances for McGoldrick who snatched at a volley early on, blasting it over, and was unlucky to see a clever flicked effort blocked on the line in the first-half. The Maguire partnership never clicked, but the Sheffield United man did great work in the lead up to the goal, latching onto Hourihane’s excellent pass before teeing up Hendrick perfectly.
Sean Maguire – 4
Maguire will be disappointed with his first competitive start as the Preston North End striker struggled to get involved in difficult conditions. Isolated throughout, Maguire fluffed a headed chance in the 25th minute and his most notable contribution came in the build-up to McGoldrick’s first-half flicked effort as he played Coleman in behind whose cutback found Maguire’s strike partner.
Robbie Brady (for Doherty, 56) – 5
Replaced the ineffective Doherty and took over set-piece duties from Hourihane. Unable to provide the creative spark McCarthy was seeking, but helped Ireland keep better possession to see out the game.
Harry Arter (for Maguire, 72) – 5
Worked hard in an unfamiliar role higher up the pitch to ensure Ireland didn’t concede a late leveller.
Mick McCarthy – 8
The gaffer spoke about needing to start with “a fit, athletic team” when asked about the decision to leave Brady out of the starting XI. In the end, McCarthy got it spot-on as the conditions and artificial pitch made it difficult for either side to play any sort of football. The substitutions helped the Boys in Green maintain possession and see out the game to achieve the primary objective of getting three points. It wasn’t pretty, but it got the job done.