Ryan Byrne/INPHO McClean is hugged by Brady and Walters after his goal.
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McClean strike sends Ireland top of the group after first-ever win in Vienna
The Boys in Green secured a 1-0 victory over Austria in their World Cup qualifier at the Ernst-Happel Stadium.

Ben Blake reports from the Ernst-Happel Stadium in Vienna

Austria 0

Ireland 1

IRELAND WILL END the year sitting top of Group D after a magnificent first-ever away win against Austria in freezing conditions at Vienna’s Ernst-Happel Stadium.

In front of a sold-out 48,500-strong crowd — 3,200 of which were travelling Irish supporters — the Boys in Green rode their luck in the first half but had the perfect start to the second when a sweeping move ended in James McClean clinically finishing three minutes after the restart.

They soaked up the pressure superbly and saw out a terrific result, which leaves them out in front on ten points with Wales next up in Dublin next March.

Three changes were forced upon Martin O’Neill with Shane Long, Stephen Ward and James McCarthy all missing through injury.

That saw Robbie Brady drop back into full-back, while Harry Arter was handed his competitive debut and Jeff Hendrick also came into a diamond midfield after returning from suspension.

As the home team, the pressure was on the Austrians to win after suffering defeat to Serbia last month.

And they came out all guns blazing as Ireland really struggled with the pace of the game during the early exchanges.

After two early corners in quick succession, Stoke City’s Marko Arnautovic drove at the Irish defence and a timely-tackle by Ciaran Clark played the ball into the path of Marcel Sabitzer, who shot wide.

Experienced striker Mark Janko was first to test Darren Randolph after a good first touch from another corner gave him a yard to turn and shoot through a crowd of bodies. Ireland’s number one smothered, however.

They were second best for much of the first half, but the visitors created a good opening on 13 minutes as Arter fed McClean and the Derryman rifled wide.

Glenn Whelan’s night only lasted 22 minutes after going down in the centre circle with an injury and David Meyler was introduced as Ireland switched from a 4-4-2 diamond to 4-2-3-1 with Arter slotting in alongside the new man.

Austria continued to find openings and Janko blasted over when the ball dropped 20 yards out before Coleman put in a wonderful last-ditch tackle as Arnautovic bore down on goal.

Alessandro Schopf’s speculative effort didn’t cause any trouble but, as the first 45 minutes, Marcel Sabitzer had the chance of the game up to that point.

His run inside Brady was picked out and a deft chip took out Randolph but came back off the crossbar. Wimmer turned it back into the six-yard box but Clark made a crucial interception with Janko loitering.

And there was still time for Ireland to create their best opportunity of an opener before Russian referee Sergei Karasev’s whistle to signal half-time.

Brady curling ball was whipped across and Walters got his foot to it but the attempt clipped the top of the bar.

Marcel Sabitzer and Harry Arter Ryan Byrne / INPHO Harry Arter tracks Austria's Marcel Sabitzer. Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

If O’Neill told his players their performance wasn’t up to scratch during the break, he didn’t have to wait long to get the required response.

Meyler won possession in Ireland’s corner and broke out wide before picking out Hoolahan, who swivlved and threaded through a wonderful pass for McClean to run onto.

The West Brom winger took the shot on at full pace and drilled though the legs of Austria’s stand-in goalkeeper Ramazan Ozcan for his eighth international goal.

The strike energised the side wearing all green and, at the same time, knocked the hosts for six. In fact, Ireland had the ball in the back of the net moments later from a Walters glancing header, but he was rightly ruled just offside.

As Austria pushed forward, Alaba’s dipping effort landed on the roof of the net, substitute Martin Harnick flicked an effort at goal and Janko criminally headed wide at the end, but Irish players kept a clean sheet thanks to constant hassling, harrying and pressing in a superbly-disciplined second hald display.

Another memorable night for this team and O’Neill will be over-the-moon with the effort — the one sour note being Brady’s booking for kicking the ball away, which puts him out of the home game with Wales.

But we’ll worry about that again.

AUSTRIA: Ozcan; Klein, Dragovic, Hinteleregger, Wimmer; Baumgartlinger (c), Alaba; Sabitzer (Harnick 73), Schopf (Schaub 57), Arnautovic; Janko.

IRELAND: Randolph; Coleman (c), Clark, Duffy, Brady; Whelan (Meyler 22), Arter, Hendrick, McClean (McGeady 85), Hoolahan (McGoldrick 78); Walters.

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