Dublin: Shane Long was the hometown hero as his 90th minute goal in a 1-1 draw with Poland at Lansdowne Road on Sunday night kept Ireland's Euro 2016 dreams alive. It looked for so long as if Slawomir Peszko's first-half goal would give Poland all three points and all but end Ireland's ambitions of going to France next year.
Republic of Ireland's striker Shane Long (R) scores their late equalizer past Poland's goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski (3rd R) during the Euro 2016 qualifying football match between Republic of Ireland and Poland at Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Pic/AFP
But the hosts fought back from a poor first half performance to dominate the second, hitting the post twice before substitute Long's late, late show gave them a deserved point. It could be a key goal in Ireland's Euro campaign, as Martin O'Neill's side would have been six points off the pace had Poland matched Germany and Scotland, who also enjoyed Group D victories on Sunday.
Poland will be happy with a point, despite the late concession, given they remain unbeaten in the Group, and top of the table. The visitors travelled to Dublin in confident mood, but coach Adam Nawalka made six changes to the side that defeated Georgia 4-0 in November. O'Neill made seven changes to the team that lost to Scotland in November, with only Seamus Coleman, John O'Shea, Aiden McGeady and Jon Walters surviving.
The Ireland coach claimed defeat was not an option if Ireland wanted to qualify for Euro 2016, and the inclusion of Norwich City attacker Wes Hoolahan was a bold decision by the ex-Celtic manager. Hoolahan showed his attacking intent almost instantly, creating the first chance of the game when he cut inside the Polish defensive line following a quickly taken free kick, but he pulled his shot harmlessly wide of Lukasz Fabianski's post.
Despite that positive start, it was to be Ireland's best chance of a half in which they were outplayed and outmuscled by the visitors. Walters caused some discomfort in the Polish defence with his bustling style of play, and Aiden McGeady had a late chip that went narrowly wide after some good buildup, but the first 45 minutes was a mostly stop-start display of poor quality football illuminated by one clinical finish from the Poles.
The physically superior Poles drew a number of fouls from the frustrated Irish, with referee Jonas Eriksson kept busy as O'Shea, Hoolahan and Coleman earned bookings before the break. From an O'Shea foul, Sevilla midfielder Grzegorz Krychowiak headed over in a good position from Maciej Rybus's delivery, but minutes later Slawomir Peszko showed the way to goal. Robbie Brady was the main culprit in the Ireland defence, losing possession near the corner under pressure from Peszko.
Rybus stole in and nipped past Marc Wilson, with the ball finding its way back to Peszko who fired smartly past Given. Five minutes after the restart Kamil Glik was given a yellow card that will rule him out of the clash with Georgia in June for a stray elbow that caught Robbie Keane in the head.
There was almost a greater blow seconds later when Brady's cross deflected off defender Lukasz Szukala and looped over the helpless Fabianski -- but the keeper's luck was in as the ball rebounded off the post to safety. The near miss raised the volume at Lansdowne Road and turned the game on its head, with all the football now being played by the hosts and wave after wave of attack coursing towards Fabianski's goal.
The Swansea keeper held Marc Wilson's header well, but had the post to thank once more when Keane headed on to the upright from a wonderful cross by substitute James McClean. It looked as if the goal would never come for Ireland when Coleman failed to even test Fabianski from a great position, but in the final minute of the game Long prodded home from close range to end a tumultuous second half performance on a high.