By Mark Szczuka and Cillan O’Conchuir
Photos courtesy of Stephen Gormley (Redeye photo agency)
Ireland booked their place in the World Cup playoffs after a James McClean strike gave Martin O’ Neill’s side a 1-0 win in Cardiff.
As Gareth Bale watched from the stands, Wales dominated the opening half, owning the possession stats as Ireland found it difficult to put a few passes together. Chris Coleman was dealt a blow when Joe Allen was taken off after a clash with Darryl Murphy left him looking concussed. As the sides entered half-time, with the game level and Serbia drawing with Georgia, top spot in Group D was still up for grabs. But the permutations changed after the break as Serbia took a 1-0 lead which all but secured an automatic place in the world cup draw.
Early in the 2nd half Jeff Hendrick chased down a poor Welsh kickout on the right touchline and nudged the ball down the line before whipping in a ball into the box for an onrushing McClean to fire home. With Croatia scoring against Ukraine, Wales needed to score twice to qualify. But despite throwing in young sensation Woodburn and Sam Vokes, Wales couldn’t break down a resolute Irish defence which now faces the possibility of facing Switzerland, Croatia, Italy or Denmark in a two legged playoff in November.