Martin O’Neill’s Republic of Ireland did the necessary in Cardiff on Monday night, earning a 1-0 win against Wales and sealing both runners-up spot in their World Cup qualifying group, and a spot in the playoffs.
James McClean’s second-half strike was enough to win all three points for the Boys in Green, in a performance that can be described as dogged against a Welsh side despeartely suffering both from the absence of Gareth Bale and the loss of Joe Allen in the first half.
It was a performance that vindicated Martin O’Neill’s team selection and tactics, but who stood out on a memorable night in the Welsh capital?
Darren Randolph. Outstanding. The Middlesbrough keeper made some fine saves throughout the match, including one terrific stop from a Hal Robson-Kanu header early in the second half.
Cyrus Christie. Solid , without venturing too far higher. Did his job defensively and looked reasonably threatening going forward. Keeping the seat warm for Seamus Coleman but doing it well.
Shane “Muffy” Duffy. An absolute colossus at the back. Duffy has been growing into Ireland’s best defender gradually over the past 12 months, but this so far was his defining performance. Towering in the air and let nothing past him.
Ciaran Clark. In Duffy’s shadow to an extent, but with the Brighton man’s performance that was always going to happen. Still, Clark’s own display was strong enough that this was arguably the night that the Clark-Duffy axis finally announced its arrival as Ireland’ bona fide strongest defensive partnership.
Stephen Ward. Maintained his performance levels from Friday night, and that is fantastic to see from a player that has had to work harder than most to earn Ireland fans’ affection. A constant nuisance down the left for Ireland and worked very well with those in front of him. A model of consistency throughout.
David Meyler. Terrific performance from the Hull midfielder, and in a way it is bittersweet that O’Neill has discovered how influential Meyler can be both as a midfield presence and stand-in captain right at the end of the campaign. Worked as hard as anyone for the result. Will be a big loss in the first leg of the playoffs through suspension.
Harry Arter. Another committed display from Arter, even if his role for Ireland appears a bit more disjointed as O’Neill works out how best to use him. Still, his determination cannot be faulted and he did brilliantly well to keep the Welsh midfield quiet.
Jeff Hendrick. Much, much better second half performance from the Burnley man. His determination ilef to the ball into the box that decided the game, and although that first half was still a worry, he gave a timely reminder of what he can do for Ireland.
James McClean. Committed as always, and took his goal extremely well, but he wasn’t playing well up until that. In one regard the goal saved his performance, but he has dug his country out of another hole and he deserves huge credit for that in another hugely energetic and passionate outing from the West Brom winger.
Robbie Brady. Still not quite right. He played well in his return and showed plenty of spirit, but his distribution looked out of sorts at times. Obviously talented, but perhaps a spell at left-back would suit him more right now.
Daryl Murphy. A bit isolated, espeically in the first half, which is frustratingly common for Ireland strikers in this system. Tried his best but fed on scraps for most of the match.
Glenn Whelan (Arter 78). A late replacement for Arter, and as such wasn’t really on long enough to have much influence on the overall proceedings.
Kevin Long (Murphy 90). The Burnley man wasn’t on for long enough to mage a significant impact, but provided an extra body in defence.