Ireland had to settle for a scoreless draw against ten-man Wales in their World Cup qualifier at the Aviva Stadium.
Martin O’Neill’s side enjoyed a sustained spell of pressure for the final third of the game but could not find a way through to goal as they enjoyed an extra man for the final 25 minutes.
Seamus Coleman was stretchered off as a result of the red card offence, which saw Neil Taylor sent off for a nasty-looking challenge on the Ireland skipper and O'Neill later confirmed that his leg was broken and that the Donegal man was on his way to hospital.
Wales had enjoyed the lion's share of the possession in the opening half but failed to break through a well-organised and disciplined Ireland defence as neither side really threatened a breakthrough.
Chris Coleman’s side started the second period as they finished the first, on the front foot, and Real Madrid star Gareth Bale looked to be honing in on the Ireland goal with two chances within two minutes.
And the Wales talisman really showed his class for that second effort that whistled past the far post as he took on a snapshot from an audacious angle.
Shane Long dragged Ireland into the contest in the 60th minute as the half wore on as his aggressive running and closing down allowed Ireland to see their first decent spell of possession in the opponents’ half.
Wales were starting to look frustrated and then when Bale escaped a red card for a late and high challenge on John O’Shea, team-mate Taylor followed up a moment later with that mis-timed tackle on Coleman, who was charging through at full pace before he was scythed down.
A straight red followed and then the sustained Ireland attack really started to put pressure on the visitors’ goal, yet to no avail.
The closest O’Neill’s side came to scoring was a James McClean right-footed volley which looked to be flying into the back of the net but was deflected wide.
The magnificent Bale was lucky to end the match on the pitch as he should have received a second yellow card for another late challenge with five minutes remaining.
And then a solo effort from the Madrid man almost decided the contest as he raced clear, cut inside and smashed a near-perfect effort, arrowed towards the top corner.
The ball flew past the wrong side of the post and while it would have been a fitting goal to decide such an exciting contest, it would have perhaps been harsh on the hosts, with the draw being the fair result over the entire 90 minutes.
Wales were better than us on the night, admits James McClean after the draw against Wales pic.twitter.com/SEcdYoG9hS— RTÉ Soccer (@RTEsoccer) March 24, 2017
McCarthy Gamble Backfires Before a Ball is Kicked
The Everton man was deemed fit to play an hour before kick-off but failed to get through the warm-up, which resulted in a late change to the team with David Meyler coming in as a replacement.
It probably was not too much of a surprise for the Hull City midfielder that he was called into action and was more than likely told to be ready just in case.
But player welfare must really be an issue here as McCarthy only managed two days training this week as he recovers from a hamstring strain.
There was always going to be questions about McCarthy’s fitness and the only bonus here was that Ireland were not forced to make an early substitution.
Ronald Koeman’s thoughts on the whole affair should be interesting once the player returns from the international break.
Two Minutes of Madness as Wales See Red
It ended with Seamus Coleman being stretched off with a broken leg after Neil Taylor flew into a challenge with the Ireland captain.
Taylor was rightly shown a straight red card for the wreckless challenge but perhaps Chris Coleman’s side should have been down to ten men two minutes earlier when it all started Gareth Bale launched himself at a ball coming into the box.
John O’Shea had clear the ball before Bale, with studs showing, caught the Ireland centre-half but the Madrid man was surprisingly only shown a yellow card for the over-zealous challenge.
Bale should certainly have picked up a second yellow late in the game and while the Italian referee had to be commended for letting the game flow, he certainly got the big decisions wrong, which will ultimately leave the Ireland captain out of action for some time.
The Real Madrid man looked head and shoulders over every Irish player on the pitch from the opening exchanges with his movement, quick-thinking and early delivery.
Playing a more central role, the Madrid man failed to really threaten the Irish goal in the first half, although he came close to setting up some excellent opportunities for his team-mates on occasion.
His star shone at times in the second half with a couple of goalbound efforts that just flew past the post, but his high profile is what probably saved him a red card as he could have been sent off twice in this encounter.
Overall, Ireland will be happy with the way they marshalled him and the defence will be very content with the clean sheet.
Man of the Match – James McClean
A remarkably emotional week for the Ireland midfielder ended up with being McClean being named man of the match.
The West Brom man lost a former team-mate last Sunday as Derry City captain Ryan McBride died tragically and McClean wore the number five jersey as a mark of respect.
As the Ireland manager mentioned during the week, McClean will always play with his heart on his sleeve, however, the midfielder put in a very disciplined performance throughout and could have ended up scoring the winning goal, only for a deflection taking his shot wide of the target.
In truth, there were not too many candidates for the accolade, however, Shane Long must have been close to it after his tireless display leading the line on his own against a five-man defence.
Manager Report: O’Neill v Coleman
Martin O’Neill watched on as his side were totally outplayed in the first half, however, he would have been very happy that his side were still level at the break.
The Ireland manager, to his credit, has shown in previous encounters that he was able top re-jig his formation counteract dominating sides and once again Ireland looked a different side in the second half.
O’Neill spoke after the game about the tough week that his squad have endured this week with bereavements and injuries taking their toll, which contributed to the poor first-half display.
Chris Coleman on the other hand had to do very little as he lets his team play the way they have been playing and the way that saw them reach the semi-finals at Euro 2016.
And while it was very pleasing on the eye, the manager didn’t appear to have a plan B to help create better chances as his side struggled to get too many sights on goal.
“Tonight is about Seamus…”
Martin O’Neill: "We were a bit sloppy in the first half I felt. We built up a bit of momentum on the second half and continued when Seamus went off. All in all it’s another point on the board but I think tonight is about Seamus."
Chris Coleman: “The match had a bit of needle throughout but nobody wants to see what happened to Seamus Coleman. Neil is not that type of player.”
Ireland: Darren Randolph; Seamus Coleman (capt) (Cyrus Christie 72), John O’Shea, Richard Keogh, Stephen Ward; Glenn Whelan, David Meyler (Aiden McGeady 80), Jeff Hendrick, James McClean, Jonathan Walters; Shane Long.
Wales: Wayne Hennessey; Chris Gunter, Ben Davies, James Chester, Ashley Williams (capt), Neil Taylor; Joe Ledley (Jazz Richards 72), Joe Allen, Gareth Bale, Aaron Ramsey; Hal Robson-Kanu (Sam Vokes HT).
Referee: Nicola Rizzoli (Italy).