By Ed Leahy at Aviva Stadium
An injury-time goal from David Alaba earned Austria a 2-2 draw with Ireland in tonight’s Group C World Cup qualifier at Aviva Stadium.
Austria took the lead in the 11th minute when a mistake by Ciaran Clark in defence allowed Martin Harnik run through to smash the ball past David Forde.
Ireland replied with two first-half goals as Jonathan Walters made no mistake from the penalty spot in the 25th minute, and the Stoke City striker bagged his brace on the stroke of half-time with a header from a corner kick.
But the visitor’s second-half pressure eventually bore fruit as the ball dropped to Bayern Munich’s Alaba on the edge of the box in injury time and his dipping shot gave Forde no chance as Austria grabbed a point.
Ireland came into the game full of confidence following their well-earned point in Stockholm on Friday and the near-capacity crowd offered a heartfelt minute’s applause for Irish football legend Con Martin who passed away last month.
Snow was falling at the freezing cold Dublin 4 venue, which obviously suited the Alpine opposition as the visitors appeared intent on putting pressure on the Irish early on, creating the first chance of the game with just two minutes on the clock.
Austrian midfielder Alaba hit a free-kick 30 yards from goal and his effort nearly caught David Forde out, but the swerving ball drifted wide in the swirling wind.
Ireland composed themselves and started to gain the upper hand winning possession in midfield to ease pressure on the defence.
After good work up the left in the fifth minute, James McClean smashed an early ball across the box and it could have caused problems but some strong defending from Dragovic cleared the danger.
But that Irish confidence was dealt a cruel blow in the 11th minute just as it looked like they were starting to take control, with McCarthy linking well with McClean, and Wilson was getting forward in support.
Aston Villa defender Ciaran Clark was caught in possession outside his own penalty area by Harnik and the Stuttgart striker ran straight into the box to guide the ball past Forde to give Austria the lead.
Ireland regrouped, pressed forward and could have been awarded a penalty in the 17th minute as the ball appeared to hit Alaba on the arm, but nothing was given and the Austrians countered at great pace down the right showing how dangerous they were playing neat attacking football.
Three minutes later, McClean again ran at the defence causing problems and the Sunderland winger managed to whip a very dangerous ball into the box but again Austria cleared and moved upfield.
A high ball over the Ireland defence was misjudged by Seamus Coleman, allowing the ball to bounce, however the Everton defender managed to win his header and Walters was back to support.
Walters sent the ball up the wing for Long to chase and the West Brom striker beat Emanuel Pogatetz to the ball and cut back inside, taking the impact from the defender and winning a penalty for Ireland.
Walters made no mistake from the spot as he smashed the ball low and hard to the keeper’s right as Ireland drew level.
The goal seemed to lift Ireland and another chance was created in the 32nd minute as Long, again causing havoc down the right, fed Conor Sammon who almost connected with the cross but Austria cleared.
The ball only went as far as McClean who whipped another great ball into the box but Austria cleared their lines once again.
Another Irish mistake in the 37th allowed the Austrians to build an attack as a straightforward back-pass to Forde was sliced into the swirling breeze and barely cleared his penalty box but the defence stood firm and actually set up a great chance from a long ball out of defence.
Sammon did well to win the aerial challenge and the ball fell to McClean who drilled a first-time effort across the box. The ball fell to Long who had his back to goal but an inventive back-heel had the keeper beaten but it hit the post and rebounded to safety.
But as half-time approached, Ireland piled on the pressure and two corners were won thanks to McClean’s hard graft down the left.
The first was cleared but Whelan decided to take the second and Walters got in front of his man to head home, the ball just creeping inside the post with no one on the line and Ireland took a 2-1 lead into the break
Ireland nearly went further ahead two minutes into the second half after Sammon won a free on edge of the box.
Whelan and McClean set up to take the set-piece and it was the latter who whipped hit left foot around the ball, which looked to be heading into the top corner with the keeper beaten, but the ball slipped past the wrong side of the post and ruffled the side-netting.
Austria eventually got back into the game and enjoyed some good possession in the 54th minute.
Some good build-up play inside the Ireland half allowed Fuchs to feed Harnik in space but his shot was well saved by Forde. And it was the goalscorer again threatening the Ireland goal a minute later, but this time his half-volley was hit into the ground and bounced wide of the far post.
Austria could have been reduced to ten men in the 57th minute as Veli Kavlak was lucky not to pick up a second yellow card when he slid in and fouled Sammon.
The visitors started to take the game to Ireland as the game approached the 65th minute and were getting forward in numbers. Garics, working well up the right, skinned Marc Wilson and his cross was cleared but only as far as Fuchs who ran onto the ball and drilled a decent effort goalwards, but Whelan got across to block.
Ireland fought back and again nearly increased the lead after 67 minutes, when McClean’s cross into the danger zone was met by an Austrian head and keeper Linder was forced to make a world class save to tip it over.
The visitors were really struggling to deal with the string of corners and Marc Wilson found himself in space to get his header away but it flew wide of the post.
But Austria started to dominate as the Irish decided to park the bus on the edge of the penalty area relying on Sammon and Long to latch onto any balls cleared out of defence.
The ball kept coming back and it was a dangerous strategy to sit back and continue to invite the visitors on.
As the 90-minute mark approached, a training ground freekick had the Irish defence in a mess as the ball was played to the back post and the header back across goal, but luckily for Ireland, Forde was alert to the danger and smothered the ball and the chance.
However as the pressure continued to build, the Austrians eventually got the break that their play deserved, two minutes into injury time.
A loose ball dropped to Alaba on the edge of the box and his dipping shot was deflected by substitute Sean St Ledger and flew past Forde as Austria secured a valuable away point and sent Giovanni Trapattoni back to the drawing board.
Ireland: Forde, Coleman, O’Shea, Clark (St Ledger 72), Wilson; Walters, Whelan, McCarthy, McClean; Sammon, Long (Green 83).
Austria: Linder; Garics, Dragovic, Pogatetz, Fuchs; Arnautovic, Alaba, Junuzovic (Baumgartlinger 26) Harnik, Kavlak (Weimann 69); Hosiner (Janko 62).
Referee: Marijo Strahonja (Croatia)