The three points are in the bag and the scene is all set for the showdown with Wales in Cardiff on Monday night.
However, one of the talking points of Friday’s 2-0 win over Moldova will be who should lead the attack for the crunch tie in just a few days’ time. It will be a tough decision, which manager Martin O’Neill will have to consider in the next few days.
On one hand, he has Daryl Murphy, who before this match had only one goal in 29 caps but scored two within the first 20 minutes versus Moldova. On the other hand, he has Shane Long, who is considered reliable in front of goal and has that bit more pace. However, the Southampton striker has not scored in 24 games for club and country and has only one goal to his name in qualifying (the reverse of Friday night’s fixture).
Long was once again leaving the field a frustrated figure. He had opportunities to put the Boys in Green further ahead on a number of occasions. His best opportunity came in the 61st minute. After some terrific build-up of play from Wes Hoolahan, who really should have taken an effort on goal himself, Long took a crack but his shot just crept wide. The cries from the stands and the shake of the head from the manager were a sign that he really should have hit the back of the net.
It was a night to remember for Murphy though. The Nottingham Forest man was deservedly named Man of the Match for his two splendid goals and anyone within the Aviva Stadium could see that he was desperate to complete his hat-trick. Murphy was in a sombre mood when pictured after being named Man of the Match sitting on the bench. All could tell he wanted to stay on the pitch and score another goal. However, he could possibly have a bigger date with destiny and an important goal in him for Monday night against the Welsh.
Another name that could be in contention for the crucial game on Monday and would cause a shock is that of Sean Maguire. The Preston North End striker – formerly of Cork City – came onto the pitch for the last seven minutes of the game. The reception from the home fans when he did come on was remarkable. It was close to the equivalent of one of the goals scored and he has caught the imagination of the Irish supporters, especially at a time when we are in need of a constant threat in front of goal.
With James McClean set to return from suspension and David McGoldrick a possibility despite a niggling injury, Long may well be reduced to a substitute in such a critical fixture. It would be a bold move by O’Neill but it could perhaps be the one needed to secure the Republic of Ireland a place in a World Cup for the first time in 16 years.
REP. OF IRELAND: Randolph, Christie, Clark, Duffy, Ward, Hendrick, Meyler (C), Hoolahan (McGeady 78′), S. Long (Maguire 82′), Murphy (Arter 78′), O’Dowda
Substitutes: Doyle, Elliot, O’Shea, Keogh, Whelan, O’Kane, Hourihane, Hogan, K. Long
Goals: Murphy (2′, 19′)
Yellow Cards: Arter (91′)
Moldova: Cebanu, Racu, Epureanu (C), Ionita, Gatcan, Dedov (Cociuc 54′), Ginsari, Bordian, Platica (Ambros 79′), Anton, Rozgoniuc
Substitutes: Koselev, S. Pascenco, Graur, Antoniuc, Cojocari, A. Pascenco, Ojog
Yellow Cards: Rozgoniuc (41′)
Red Cards: Gatcan (92′)
Referee: Bas Nijhuis (NED)