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Murphy ends 23-game goal drought as Ireland come away from Belgrade with a point

Martin O’Neill’s side weren’t at their best in the 2-2 draw with Serbia tonight.

An overjoyed Daryl Murphy after his goal.
An overjoyed Daryl Murphy after his goal.
Image: Nick Potts

Serbia 2

Ireland 2

Ben Blake reports from the Red Star Stadium in Belgrade

DARYL MURPHY AND JEFF HENDRICK both broke their international goal ducks as Ireland began their World Cup qualifying campaign with a 2-2 draw away to Serbia.

In a scrappy, disjointed affair, the Boys in Green took an early lead before conceding twice — only for substitute Murphy to find the back of the net with a bullet header late on.

There were real pre-match worries that the game would have to be postponed due to torrential rain that fell for much of Monday afternoon and into the evening, but referee Victor Kassai was happy to deem the pitch playable after an inspection.

The 55,000-seater Red Star Stadium was expected to be half-full for the first game of campaign. Considerably less than that showed up, however, and much of the stands lay empty at kick-off with those present grouped in the upper sections to shelter from the rain.

The low attendance made for a less-than-hostile atmosphere and in fact it was the small pocket of Irish fans who could regularly be heard making the most noise.

They were given something to sing about after just two minutes as Ireland got off to the perfect start. James McClean’s positive run won the visitors a free-kick 25 yards out from goal.

An in-swinger from Robbie Brady was palmed away by 20-year-old goalkeeper Predrag Rajkovic, making his competitive debut, but O’Shea recycled well to send it back into the danger zone.

Shane Long laid off to Hendrick and Burnley’s record signing drilled a left-footed strike towards goal, where it was helped in by a deflection off Serbian captain Branislav Ivanovic.

Soccer WCup 2018 Serbia Ireland The Irish players celebrate with Hendrick. Source: Darko Vojinovic

The Serbians threatened in fits and starts throughout the first half, with Hamburg’s Filip Kostic their main threat. The 23-year-old winger created two chances for himself to force Darren Randolph into a couple of smart saves — collecting the first and pushing the second behind for a corner.

Richard Keogh had to clear after a goalmouth scramble and Walters’ header was kept out by Rajkovic down the other end.

Worryingly, Ireland were unable to get any sort of passing rhythm going and continued to ride their luck.

Antonio Rukavina’s low cross was saved by Randolph, and fell at the feet of Aleksander Mitrovic. The Newcastle United had the goal at his mercy but spurned a golden chance with his poor first touch.

A Serbian goal was always coming and they grabbed a deserved equaliser 17 minutes into the second half. Tadic flicked the ball over the head of O’Shea and it broke kindly for Kostic to stroke in his first international goal.

Serbia v Republic of Ireland - 2018 FIFA World Cup Qualifying - Group D - Rajko Mitic Stadium Filip Kostic scored Serbia's first. Source: Nick Potts

The same player was then guilty of winning his side a pretty dubious penalty as he went down under a challenge from Walters. Southampton man Tadic stepped up to send the penalty high and past Randolph as Serbia went in front for the first time.

With the game really opening up, substitute Andrija Pavlovic crashed a strike off the crossbar and Walters headed home from Hendrick’s curling ball only to be ruled offside.

Stephen Quinn was brought on for Stephen Ward in a switch that saw Brady moved to left-back, before Murphy was introduced in place of Hendrick with Ireland now chasing the game.

McClean headed high and wide at the front post and Long shot straight at Rajkovic when he looked destined to score.

But with ten minutes remaining, the unmarked Murphy met a Brady corner to score his first goal in a green shirt on his 24th senior appearance.

Far from their finest display, but O’Neill will take a point as defeat looked the most likely outcome at one stage.

SERBIA: Rajkovic, Rukavina, Gudelj, Nastasic, Ivanovic (c), Mitrovic (Pavlovic 59), Tadic, Mladenovic (Tosic 76), Milivojevic, Kostic (Katai 82), Vukovic.

IRELAND: Randolph, Coleman (c), O’Shea, Keogh, Ward (Quinn 70), Whelan, Hendrick (Murphy 76), Brady, McClean, Long (Clark 90), Walters.

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About the author:

Ben Blake

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