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'The players are absolutely adamant we should have had a penalty'

Martin O’Neill was remaining upbeat despite seeing his side suffer what could prove a costly loss.

Image: Steven Paston

Updated at 10.59

IRELAND BOSS MARTIN O’Neill was remaining upbeat after seeing his side’s World Cup qualification hopes suffer a major blow.

The Boys in Green’s 1-0 loss to Serbia means they now face an uphill battle to reach Russia, and will almost certainly need to earn wins over both Moldova and Wales in their final two qualifiers to have any hope of reaching Russia.

But O’Neill remains optimistic after seeing his side deliver an improved display this evening.

No, we can win our last two games, we can still make it,” the Irish boss said, when asked if his team had “blown it”.

“There are obviously a lot of disappointed players in there, particularly after the performance.

It not just big words, it’s how I feel. I think we can win both games and that’s what we have to do.”

O’Neill was reluctant to give his opinion on a late penalty claim involving Daryl Murphy, but he suggested the hosts were unlucky with that incident.

I have just done the TV interviews. I didn’t see it back, but the players are absolutely adamant it was a penalty kick.

“I have just come out here — but the players in the dressing room say it’s a clear-cut penalty and the referee has chosen not to give it.”

The 65-year-old coach added that he was proud of his players and the performance, despite the disappointing outcome.

I thought the players were fantastic tonight,” he said. “I thought they gave every ounce for the shirt tonight, every single ounce that they had. They had nothing left.

“It was a big, big effort and if we had got just deserts, a penalty kick and maybe it’s possible conversion, it would have been the least we deserved from the game tonight.

Although Kolarov scored a rocket of a goal, I must admit I don’t remember them threatening us three times in the game, and apparently their captain (Branislav Ivanovic) said it’s the toughest game he’s played at international level.”

O’Neill made some big selection calls this evening, and he was full of praise for one individual in particular — man-of-the-match David Meyler.

Well, first of all, Glenn (Whelan) is getting a little bit older — he won’t mind me saying that. Two games in succession in a few days and a long, long trip back, we freshened it up.

“David (Meyler) played exceptionally well tonight, I’m delighted for him. I thought Wes did very well too. I thought if he lasted the half, that would be great for us, but he saw out 60 minutes, which was fantastic.

I thought him getting on the ball helped us try to create a few things. I thought Meyler was exceptional, particularly in the first half. He’s just come into the game, commanded the situation and there was a period of 15 minutes where he was absolutely excellent.

“But I think the players, no matter what age they are, they enjoy playing — Wes is 35 years of age now. They love playing and we’ll see (if they stay in the starting XI).”

Having taken just three points from their last four games, qualification for the Irish team is now looking unlikely, but O’Neill says he would have taken this position if offered to him before any games were played.

While Ireland showed plenty of heart and endeavour right until the game’s conclusion this evening, the manager admitted his team were not as clinical as they needed to be in the final third ultimately, while lacking composure at key moments.

Roy Keane was telling me that even with the great side they possessed under Jack Charlton, they were never running away with games, and so it is the case (now). These games are tight. We have to score the decisive goal. A lot of occasions over the last couple of years we have done that. We’ve two games to try to pull that round. We need to find the net and we need to win.

“It’s that clinical finisher. Unfortunately for my tenure here, I had an ageing Robbie Keane. A 27-year-old Robbie Keane would have been in his element tonight.

One of the distinguishing features of top-class sides is (the ability) to pick a pass out under pressure and in the last seven or eight minutes, I know we were going for it, but you have to play with your head.

“For instance, James (McClean) had a right-foot shot from the edge of the box. Conor Hourihane, who’s essentially left footed, had a left-foot shot but also had a right-foot shot. You have to keep that ball alive. Shane Long’s played a ball with seven or eight minutes to go thinking there was someone there (when there wasn’t). These are really important moments that distinguish the great sides, the sides who are able to deal with those situations.

We needed a wee bit of width again just to create something and put the ball into the penalty box.

“But I take your point, it’s important to be able to play and choose the right pass, the right moment or the right delivery.”

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Paul Fennessy

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