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Walters after bagging the equaliser.
Walters after bagging the equaliser.

Walters strikes late to earn Ireland a share of the spoils with Austria

The draw leaves Martin O’Neill’s side top of Group D with Serbia and Wales facing off this evening.
Jun 11th 2017, 6:58 PM 24,556 75

Ireland 1
Austria 1

Ben Blake reports from the Aviva Stadium

JON WALTERS CAME to the rescue to ensure Ireland avoided their first defeat of the 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign this evening.

After a first-half goal from Augsburg defender Martin Hinteregger, the under-strength Austrians looked to hold out for a much-needed three points at the Aviva Stadium.

But Walters, so often the hero in recent years, struck on 85 minutes to hand the Boys in Green a slender lead at the top of Group D.

Martin O’Neill made one change to the side that defeated Uruguay in a friendly this time last week. The Ireland boss has shown in the past that he loves to spring a surprise selection and the latest man to benefit was Cork-born defender Kevin Long.

With just four appearances for Burnley this season and having only made his international debut in the recent defeat to Mexico, the 26-year-old was named alongside Shane Duffy at the centre of defence.

Harry Arter and Glenn Whelan both started in a three-man midfield with Jeff Hendrick playing the furthest forward. James McClean and Robbie Brady occupied the wings, Walters got the nod up front and Wes Hoolahan had to settle for a place on the bench.

O’Neill also resisted the temptation to change his goalkeepers — sticking with Darren Randolph over Keiren Westwood.

And the West Ham stopper was called into action after just four minutes as the visitors began positively. Zlatko Junuzovic exchanged passes with Florian Kainz and drilled a shot down the throat of Randolph from 15 yards out.

The Ireland team The Ireland players applaud those who have passed away recently before kick-off. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

During the early stages, Ireland were content to launch long balls up to lone striker Walters, who did his best to cause the Austrian defence problems with his physicality.

On 20 minutes, an in-swinging Austrian corner evaded everyone but centre forwarGuido Burgstaller wasn’t fd ar away from making contact at the back post.

A fine piece of play then carved open Ireland’s best chance of the first half. Whelan slotted a ball through to Walter and he dummied it for the advancing Ward. The full-back’s cross was touched back nicely by McClean but Walters couldn’t hit the target when you would have expected him to score.

Shortly afterwards, Hendrick’s threaded pass found Walters. His first touch in the opposing box was a little too heavy, however.

And it was the visitors who drew first blood just after the half-hour mark. A set-piece straight off the training ground saw Sebastian Prodl step over David Alaba’s corner and defender Martin Hinteregger beat Randolph with his shot.

The goal prompted O’Neill to shuffle his pack as Brady was moved from right to left flank and McClean joined Walters up front in a 4-4-2.

Before the half-time whistle, Walters got a shot off after good work from Whelan, who was fouled in the process, but dragged it across the goalmouth.

Martin Hinteregger scores his sides first goal Randolph is beaten in the Ireland goal. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Two minutes had been played in the second half when the home side came close through Duffy. The Brighton defender rose highest to connect with Christie’s free-kick from the halfway line and head off-target.

But Austria looked dangerous and Alaba broke from midfield — playing a one-two with Kainz — before stretching to direct an effort beyond the far post.

The game sprang to life at this point and Walters was denied a one-on-one chance by Dragovic’s last-ditch tackle.

Ireland threatened again as McClean knocked down a high ball into the box, Walters was closed down and the ball broke for Arter, who couldn’t trouble goalkeeper Heinz Lindner.

O’Neill made his first substitution on 56 minutes as Ward was withdrawn for Daryl Murphy. Brady dropped back to left full-back and the Newcastle United striker was sent up alongside Walters.

Austria looked rattled as the Boys in Green turned the screw and McClean robbed Julian Baumgartlinger before checking inside and blasting wide.

Hoolahan, unlucky to have been left out, was given 20 minutes to influence the game and his first involvement very nearly resulted in a goal. His inviting cross was deflected goalwards by Lainer and Lindner was luckily well-placed on the goal-line to save.

Aiden McGeady then came on as O’Neill went all-out-attack, and Long’s header was cleared off the line with 10 minutes to go. Down the other end, Randolph had to pull off an excellent save to keep out substitute Florian Grillitsch.

With the clock ticking down, Walters out-muscled his marker and found the bottom corner as the sold-out stadium erupted.

Ireland had the ball in the net seconds later but Spanish referee David Fernandez Borbalan awarded a free out for pushing and the whistle went for full-time.

Serbia and Wales meet later this evening and next up for Ireland is a tricky trip to Tbilisi to play Georgia on 2 September before Serbia come to Dublin three days later.

Opportunity missed but there are sure to be plenty more twists and turns in Group D yet.

IRELAND: Randolph; Christie, Duffy, K Long, Ward (Murphy 56); Whelan (McGeady 77), Arter (Hoolahan 71), Brady, Hendrick, McClean; Walters.

AUSTRIA: Linder; Lainer, Dragovic, Prodl, Hinteregger; Baumgartlinger, Junuzovic (Grillitsch 79), Alaba; Lazaro, Burgstaller (Harnik 75), Kainz (Gregoritsch 89).

As it happened: Ireland v Austria, World Cup 2018 qualifier

Burnley defender Kevin Long handed shock start for Ireland-Austria game

 

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Ben Blake

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