By Glenn Mason
The Republic of Ireland moved joint top of their Euro 2012 qualifying group with a hard-fought 2-1 win over Macedonia at the Aviva Stadium.
Aiden McGeady's first international goal put Ireland ahead in the second minute and Robbie Keane added a second from close range midway through the half.
Macedonia responded just before half-time when Ivan Trichkovski deceived Richard Dunne and slotted past Keiren Westwood.
Ireland were dealt a severe blow when Kevin Doyle limped off early in the first half with what looked to be a serious knee injury.
There was further bad news for the home side as a caution for Dunne rules him out of the return game in Skopje in June.
The three points tonight, coupled with Russia's earlier draw in Armenia, sees Trapattoni's men level at top Group B with Slovakia and Russia.
Highly-rated James McCarthy was introduced as a substitute late on and received a rapturous welcome from the home crowd.
McCarthy played a crucial role, along with fellow substitute Keith Fahey, in steadying a ship that had been rocking in the second half after a bright first period.
Giovanni Trapattoni's players delivered the positive start he called for, but they were helped by some poor goalkeeping from Edin Nuredinoski.
McGeady had never scored in his previous 37 games for Ireland but he found the net less than 90 seconds into his 38th.
The winger tricked his way into space and fired low towards goal. Nuredinoski could only watch the ball go through his grasp.
The keeper looked rattled by that early mistake, as he fumbled a Damien Duff shot in the seventh minute. Fortunately for Macedonia, he gathered at the second attempt as Keane closed in.
Doyle was forced off with a serious knee injury in the 16th minute. Shane Long came on in his place, but only after a delay that had Trapattoni remonstrating with the fourth official.
The Italian had preached a shoot-on-sight policy in the build-up to the game and Nuredinoski was at fault again as Keane doubled Ireland's advantage.
Darron Gibson's free-kick from the edge of the box was fumbled into Keane's path and the skipper tapped home his 46th international goal.
Long, who has been in fine form this season for Reading, had a chance to stretch the lead. Keane flicked Kevin Foley's ball around the corner to Long, who beat Boban Grncharov but fired wide.
However, there were warnings for Ireland that they would not have it all their own way, as Trichkovski twice caused concern with long-range efforts.
It was Trichkovski who got Macedonia back in to the contest on the stroke of half-time.
The previously quiet Goran Pandev escaped from Kilbane to pick out the winger, who fooled Dunne and calmly slotted the ball past Westwood.
There was another scare for Ireland as Pandev could have levelled matters minutes into the second half, but he could not steer Goran Popov's cross on target.
Grncharov almost ruined Long's looks with a high tackle that should have brought a red card and not the yellow one issued by referee Istvan Vad.
Duff has been among the goals lately and he went close on the hour mark after McGeady picked him out at the back post.
The Fulham man was involved again minutes later as he dispossessed Popov and picked out Keane, but the skipper could not find the unmarked Long.
Macedonia passed their way back into the game by dominating possession, causing jitters in the home defence. Bookings for Dunne and Gibson were a sign of Ireland's growing frustration.
Westwood kept his side ahead on 75 minutes with a great block from Trichkovski after Muhamed Demiri's long ball had deceived the back four.
As Macedonia pushed for a late equaliser, the home side sought to catch them on the counter attack, but the tactic caused frayed nerves amongst the home support.
Any confusion over McCarthy's allegiance was ended when he replaced Keane in the 87th minute. Such was the anticipation that there were cheers when the 20-year-old went out to warm up.
Despite some nervy moments towards the end, Ireland head to Skopje in a good position in the group, but the absence of Dunne, and possibly Doyle, for that encounter will make a tough assignment even trickier.
Republic of Ireland: 1 Westwood; 2 Foley, 4 O'Dea, 5 Dunne, 3 Kilbane; 7 McGeady, 6 Whelan, 8 Gibson (18 Fahey '77), 11 Duff; 9 Doyle (14 Long '20), 10 Keane (13 McCarthy '87).
Subs not used: 16 Forde, 12 Kelly, 15 Clark, 17 Lawrence.
Booked: Westwood, Dunne, Gibson
FYR Macedonia: 1 Nuredinoski; 2 Shikov, 3 Popov, 4 Noveski, 15 Grncharov; 8 Shumulikosi, 17 Demiri (6 Georgievski '84), 16 Tasevski (20 Gjurovski '61), Trichkovski; 10 Pandev, 11 Naumoski (9 Risticj '68).
Subs not used: 12 Bogatinov, 5 Metreski, 13 Despotovski, 18 Lazevski.
Booked: Grncharov, Popov, Demiri
Referee: Istvan Vad (Hungary).