Republic of Ireland 1-1 Poland
An injury-time equaliser from substitute Shane Long helped the Republic of Ireland fight back for a well-earned 1-1 draw against Poland in Sunday night's Euro 2016 qualifying Group D clash at the Aviva Stadium.
A moment of magic from Slawomir Peszko was enough to see the visitors take a first-half lead after the midfielder smashed home the opener in the 26th minute from a tight angle.
Ireland fought gamely in the second half and put tremendous pressure on the visitors’ defence, managing to hit the woodwork twice, but the equalising goal looked like it would evade Martin O’Neill’s side as 90 minutes elapsed.
But Long was on hand to clip the ball home from close range in the first of the five added minutes after the Poland defence failed to clear the out-swinging corner.
Both sides went all out for a winner in the remaining four minutes of additional time, but neither side could grab a late, late winner and the spoils were deservedly shared.
O’Neill named an attacking side for this vital qualifier against the group leaders and it was in evidence early on as full-backs Seamus Coleman and Robbie Brady showed their intent by getting forward in the opening minutes.
But the visitors, buoyed by a huge contingent of supporters from both these shores and from the continent – one Polish flag was emblazoned with ‘Sligo’ – were not looking to sit back, and wasted no time taking the game to Ireland.
They looked particularly dangerous down the left flank with Maciej Rybus working well with Robert Lewandowski, who was dropping into space to link the play.
But it was the Ireland who were first to get a shot at goal as Wes Hoolahan, who also looked lively in he opening minutes, picked up the ball on the edge of the box but dragged his shot wide with ten minutes on the clock.
Ireland continued to attack, but in the 15th minute left-back Brady was caught in possession and it took a desperate McCarthy recovering foul to prevent the counter-attack.
The home side continued to maintain possession, working the ball across the midfield, but were unable to threaten their opponents’ goal and it was the visitors who were next to threaten as they started to take control of the game.
A dangerous free-kick into the box in the 20th minute gave Grzegorz Krychowiaka a clear sight of goal but his header could not be directed on target after he easily beat Coleman in the air.
It was a sign of things to come as Poland maintained the pressure and, sure enough, the breakthrough came in the 26th minute as Peszko’s stinging drive flew past Given.
A moment of hesitancy, again from Brady, following a long ball out of the Polish defence, allowed the Poland midfielder to dispossess the Hull man. Peszko then linked up well with Maciej Rybus, who showed great strength to hold off Marc Wilson, before unleashing an unstoppable effort past the diving Irish keeper.
Brady had a chance to make amends in the 35th minute after Coleman was fouled as he cut in from the right flank. However, the free from 30 yards flew over the bar.
With Ireland now looking second best, O’Neill proceeded to change formation in an attempt to cause some problems in the final third as he went with a 4-4-2, moving Jonathan Walters into centre-forward and switching Aiden McGeady to the right flank.
And it resulted in a better spell of possession for the Ireland with Hoolahan, now operating on the left, and the aforementioned McGeady getting more time on the ball.
Ireland’s best chance came on the stroke of half-time. McGeady cut in from the right and he feigned to shoot, leaving two Polish players on their backsides, before clipping a delightful effort to the far post, but it just dropped the wrong side of the woodwork as Poland led 1-0 at the interval.
Ireland came out with added gusto in the second half and immediately went in search of that equalising goal.
Brady charged forward at every opportunity, and was perhaps instructed to send the ball over earlier, as he whipped the first delivery in behind the retreating defence in the opening minute of the half.
No Ireland player was on hand to capitalise on the first centre, but the next one almost levelled matters in the 52nd minute as Brady again played it early, and at pace. And this time, the deflected cross looped over the Polish keeper before crashing off the back post and to safety.
Walters was now causing major problems for Poland’s centre-backs, which allowed Ireland to enjoy plenty of possession in the opponents’ half.
Ireland’s first effort on target arrived from a corner in the 64th minute as Wilson rose highest to get a good header on goal, but it was straight at the keeper, who saved easily.
And like Brady down the left, Coleman was now enjoying plenty of space on the right flank as he linked up well with Hoolahan.
Ireland were working the ball into dangerous areas but could not create anything to threaten Lukasz Fabianski’s goal.
James McClean entered the fray in the 68th minute and added another attacking dimension on the left wing, immediately causing problems with drilled left-footed crosses, causing commotion in the defence.
In the 72nd minute, Robbie Keane was cruelly denied, first by the keeper and then the woodwork after directing an excellent header from a pin-point McClean cross down at the back post, which Fabianski did well to palm onto the post.
Attack after Ireland attack kept coming but Poland held firm and with eight minutes remaining of the 90, McClean again worked the ball across from the left, which arrived just behind Keane at the back post.
Quick thinking from the striker allowed him to tee the advancing Coleman up but the Everton man blasted the shot wide at the near post and it looked like Ireland might rue that clear-cut chance.
The indication of the five additional minutes gave the crowd a much-needed boost, and sure enough, the equaliser arrived in the first minute of stoppage time as Long - with the aid of deflection - clipped the ball over the outstretched Fabianski as Ireland grabbed a point that could prove crucial in this most competitive of qualifying groups.
Republic of Ireland: Shay Given; Seamus Coleman, John O’Shea, Marc Wilson, Robbie Brady; Jonathan Walters, Glenn Whelan, James McCarthy, Aiden MeGeady; Wes Hoolahan, Robbie Keane.
Poland: Lukaz Fabianski; Pawel Olkowski, Kamil Glik, Lukasz Szukala, Jakub Wawrzyniak; Slawomir Peszko, Tomasz Jodlowiec, Grzegorz Krychowiak, Maciej Rybus; Arkadiusz Milik, Robert Lewandowski.