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Murphy on the double and Maguire handed debut as Ireland tee up massive night in Cardiff

A 2-0 victory over Moldova was enough in their penultimate World Cup qualifier.

The Irish players mob goalscorer Murphy.
The Irish players mob goalscorer Murphy.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Ireland 2

Moldova 0

Ben Blake reports from the Aviva Stadium 

IRELAND HEAD TO Cardiff with everything still to play for after a routine victory over Moldova tonight.

With no room for error in the penultimate 2018 World Cup qualifier, Daryl Murphy got the Boys in Green on their way with two goals in the opening 20 minutes against the nation ranked 156th in the world.

There was also a special moment for former Cork City striker Sean Maguire as he was handed his senior international debut before the end.

Jon Walters, James McCarthy and long-term injury Seamus Coleman were all ruled out along with suspended pair James McClean and Robbie Brady, meaning O’Neill was forced into a number of changes.

Jeff Hendrick was restored to the starting XI, while the team’s most in-form goalscorer Murphy — with six league goals with Nottingham Forest this season — also came in to join Shane Long up front in a 4-4-2 diamond.

And there was a first competitive start for 22-year-old Callum O’Dowda. The Bristol City winger has impressed the Ireland boss over the past year and, after a couple of cameos, earned a place on the left-hand side of midfield.

Ireland and Moldova stand for the anthems The teams stand for the national anthems. Source: Gary Carr/INPHO

With less than two minutes played, Ireland were off the mark. A long throw-in from Stephen Ward came off the back of a Moldovan defender under pressure from the aerial presence of Shane Duffy.

The alert Murphy pounced first to volley past goalkeeper Ilie Cebanu, who didn’t exactly cover himself in glory, for his second international goal in 30 appearances.

That goal helped Ireland take control of the game against inferior opposition, who came into the fixture with just two points from a possible 24. The movement of Hoolahan and O’Dowda was causing problems, and the latter’s strike from 25 yards hit the side-netting with Cebanu scrambling.

More fine play from those two teed up Murphy and the Waterford man should have had a second — shooting just wide with his weaker right foot.

But he wouldn’t have to wait much longer to double his tally. An excellent move saw Hoolahan pick out the run of Ward and his first-time cross was guided into the corner by Murphy’s beautifully-cushioned header.

Moldova produced next to nothing in terms of chances until the 27-minute mark, when Randolph had to touch over a snapshot from Sergiu Platica that was heading for the top corner.

The hosts were guilty of taking the foot off the gas for a brief period in the first half, which allowed the visitors more possession and Artur Ionita the time to blast a long-range effort straight at Ireland’s number one.

But they got back on top and Clark headed off-target, Hendrick sliced wide and Duffy nodded over before Dutch referee Bas Nijhuis blew his whistle to signal the break.

Callum O’Dowda with Vitalie Bordian The impressive O’Dowda and Moldova's Vitalie Bordian. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Shane Long hasn’t found the back of the net for club or country since February, and the Southampton man had a golden opportunity to break that duck on the hour mark.

Hoolahan broke through the middle on the counter attack and fed O’Dowda, who stepped inside and had a pop. The effort was deflected into the path of Long by Vitalie Bordian’s block, but he somehow side-footed a volley beyond the far post.

Eugeniu Cociuc was then introduced by Moldovan boss Igor Dobrovolksi and the MŠK Žilina midfielder struck high and wide with a half-chance.

Murphy wouldn’t be given the opportunity to bag a hat-trick as he was withdrawn for Harry Arter in the final minutes, while Aiden McGeady came on for Hoolahan. The crowd then gave a warm welcome to Preston North End’s Maguire, who was hugged by Long as he replaced him.

In injury-time, Moldova were reduced to 10 men as Alexandru Gatcan was sent off after an off-the-ball incident that saw Arter go down easily.

Earlier this evening, Wales ground out a 1-0 win away to Georgia in Tbilisi and Chris Coleman’s men hold a one-point advantage over Ireland ahead of Monday’s showdown.

Bring on Cardiff.

IRELAND: Darren Randolph; Cyrus Christie, Shane Duffy, Ciaran Clark, Stephen Ward; David Meyler (c), Jeff Hendrick, Wes Hoolahan (Aiden McGeady 79), Callum O’Dowda; Shane Long (Sean Maguire 81), Daryl Murphy (Harry Arter 79).

MOLDOVA: Ilie Cebanu; Vitalie Bordian, Petru Racu, Alexandru Epureanu (c), Artiom Rozgoniuc; Gheorghe Anton, Artur Ionita, Alexandru Gatcan, Sergiu Platica (Vladimir Ambros 79), Alexandru Dedov (Eugeniu Cociuc 55); Radu Ginsari.

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