By Ed Leahy at Aviva Stadium
Noel King’s two-game reign as Ireland manager ended in victory as he watched his side beat Kazakhstan 3-1 in tonight’s Group C World Cup qualifier at Aviva Stadium.
The visitors took a shock lead in the 13th minute thanks to a wonder strike from Dmitriy Shomko, but Ireland hit back quickly thanks to a Robbie Keane penalty and a rare strike from defender John O’Shea.
The victory was sealed with 12 minutes remaining after substitute Aiden McGeady caused havoc in the box and Shomko turned the ball into his own net.
Interim manager King again set out his side playing in a 4-2-3-1 formation with the returning Andy Reid handed the role of playmaker in behind captain Robbie Keane with Kevin Doyle out right with Anthony Stokes on the opposite flank.
Reid looked to assert his influence early in the game as Ireland bossed possession with the Nottingham Forrest midfielder looking to get on the ball at every opportunity.
And it was Reid’s gifted left foot, which almost created the opener in the ninth minute as his goal-bound effort was glanced on by Keane but keeper Andrey Sidelnikov did well to get his body behind the diverted ball to save.
But a minute later it was the visitors who showed that they were not content to sit back, as they pushed deep into the Irish half. An attack down the left led to a great ball into the six-yard box where Maxat Baizhanov got in front of keeper David Forde but he headed over the bar with the goal at his mercy.
If that was to serve warning on the Irish defence, the next attack would really grab Ireland’s attention as the visitors took a shock lead in the 13th minute.
Seamus Coleman’s mis-kicked clearance dropped into space outside the box and Dmitriy Shomko ran on to unleash an unstoppable effort from 25 yards, giving Forde absolutely no chance in the Ireland goal as the ball flew into the top corner.
To Ireland’s credit they gave Kazakhstan no time to enjoy their lead and hit back within four minutes.
After a sustained spell of pressure, Stokes found space on the left flank to run at the full-back before drawing the foul.
Reid’s free was whipped to the back post and as Dunne rose to meet it, the hand of Alexander Kislitsyn flicked the ball away, giving the referee the easiest of decisions to award the penalty.
Record goalscorer Keane stepped up and calmly sent the keeper the wrong way with a well-placed penalty to restore parity with 17 minutes played.
Ireland took the lead nine minutes later after another Reid set-piece was aimed at Dunne at the back post.
Reid’s precise corner found the towering Dunne, whose header into the ground bounced awkwardly for the keeper who could only parry the ball to the awaiting John O’Shea and the Sunderland centre-half made no mistake to drill the ball home.
Ireland looked very comfortable in attack but complacency at the back caused concern and more Kazakh pressure led to Baizhanov unmarked in the box but his free header went wide.
Manager King was forced into a substitution before the break as Glenn Whelan on came on for the injured Darron Gibson who was stretchered off after damaging his knee. Ireland took the lead into the break following four minutes of additional time for the Gibson injury.
Ireland came out on the attack early in the second half and created a string of half-chances in the opening 15 minutes with Keane, Reid, Whelan and Stokes all trying their luck without testing Sidelnikov’s goal.
Kazakh substitute Igor Yurin then gave Ireland a shock as the slender lead was almost cancelled out as his rasping shot from distance flew past Forde but just the wrong side of the post.
But the visitors’ keeper almost gifted Ireland a third in the 64th minute, after his short throw-out landed at Reid’s feet, 30 yards from goal.
Reid’s left-footed clever chipped effort had the retreating keeper beaten but the lobbed attempt dropped onto the top of the net.
Reid departed to appreciative applause from the sparse Ireland crowd who showed up for this dead-rubber international, with Aiden McGeady coming on with 15 minutes to impress.
The former Celtic winger only needed three as he found himself in space, thanks to some excellent work from Stokes to keep the ball in play.
McGeady took the direct route into the box before rolling a delightful ball across the visitor’s goalmouth with Kevin Doyle and Keane scrambling to touch the ball home.
It was neither Irish foot with the final touch but rather Kazakh goalscorer Shomko who tangled with his keeper before flicking the ball into his own net.
The visitors, to their credit, kept up their counter-attacking play and twice had chances to reduce the deficit with Andrey Finonchenko and Yurin both threatening the Ireland goal.
But Ireland remained in control and eased to victory playing out the final few minutes with confidence to hand King a very welcome parting present.
Rep of Ireland: David Forde, Seamus Coleman, Richard Dunne, John O’Shea, Marc Wilson; James McCarthy, Darron Gibson (Glenn Whelan 37); Kevin Doyle, Andy Reid (Aiden McGeady 75), Anthony Stokes (Wes Hoolahan 87); Robbie Keane (capt).
Subs not used: Robert Elliot, Ciaran Clark, Joey O’Brien, Damien Delaney, Stephen Kelly, Paul Green, James McClean, Shane Long, Stephen Henderson.
Kazakhstan: Andrey Sidelnikov; Konstantine Engel ,Mark Gurman, Viktor Dmitrenko, Alexander Kislitsyn (Andrey Finonchenko 32); Alexey Chshyotkin (Igor Yurin 61), Andrey Karpovich (capt) (Pavel Shabalin 84), Maxat Baizhanov, Dmitriy Shomko, Valeriy Korobkin; Sergei Khizhnichenko.
Subs not used: Alexander Mokin, Alexey Muldarov, Nurbol Zhumaskaliyev, Yeldos Akhmetov, Anatoliy Bogdanov, Yuriy Logvinenko.
Referee: Vadims Direktorenko (Latvia).