Republic of Ireland 3 - 0 Latvia: 'Bad cop' double team of Martin O'Neill and Roy Keane secure first win in Dublin
Published 15/11/2013 | 21:38
The Martin O'Neill and Roy Keane 'bad cop' double team have landed their first victory charge of the Republic after the home side defeated Latvia 3 - 0 in Dublin.
Robbie Keane helped to launch O'Neill's reign in style after his 62nd international goal set the Republic of Ireland on the road to victory over Latvia.
The 33-year-old skipper needed just 22 minutes to get his name on the scoresheet, and Aiden McGeady made sure of the win with a 68th-minute second.
But on a night when Ireland played with a fluency which has eluded them in recent months, it was substitute Shane Long who had the final say with a tap-in 11 minutes from time to make it 3-0.
Martin O'Neill handed recalls to his Sunderland old boys Keiren Westwood and James McClean for his first game in charge against Latvia.
Westwood replaced Giovanni Trapattoni's number one keeper David Forde, while there was a start in midfield for winger McClean.
Stephen Ward, discarded by Trapattoni, Glenn Whelan, Aiden McGeady and Wes Hoolahan were also included as O'Neill made six changes to the side sent out by interim boss Noel King for the 3-1 World Cup qualifier victory over Kazakhstan last month.
Ireland lined up with Hoolahan playing off lone striker Robbie Keane in a free role and with McClean wide on the left and McGeady on the right.
The Wigan midfielder was in the thick of the action within seconds, luring defender Vladislavs Gabovs into an ill-judged challenge which earned the home side a second minute free-kick.
McGeady's set piece was cleared only as far as James McCarthy by Latvia skipper Kaspars Gorkss, and the midfielder's stinging volley was blocked in front of goal by team-mate John O'Shea.
However, the visitors warmed to their task and went close themselves when Juris Laizans' seventh-minute corner was allowed to travel to Artis Lazdins on the edge of the box and he controlled with his chest before sending a dipping effort just over.
Glenn Whelan drilled a cross over the bar after being played in by Seamus Coleman on the right two minutes later, but the Republic perhaps should have been in front with 12 minutes played after Latvia keeper Andris suffered a rush of blood and handled outside his area.
McGeady cleverly squared the resulting free-kick to Hoolahan, who turned it across goal only for Keane to fire straight at the keeper from six yards.
McClean and McGeady were causing all kinds of problems for the Latvian defence as they repeatedly ran at them, and they combined to good effect with 22 minutes gone for the Wigan man to flick on the Spartak Moscow's winger's corner to allow Keane to stab home his 62nd senior international goal.
Latvia boss Marian Pahars made his first change after just 27 minutes when he replaced midfielder Ritvars Rugins with Aleksandrs Fertovs as his side struggled to gain a foothold in the game.
But the traffic was largely one way as Ireland continued to play with a fluency and a confidence they had lacked during the latter days of Giovanni Trapattoni's reign, albeit against more modest opposition than much of what they faced as the Italian's tenure drew to a close.
Keane might have extended the lead 11 minutes before the break after defender John O'Shea had helped on Ward's left-wing cross, but the ball was behind him and he could not readjust in time.
McClean wasted a chance to cap an impressive first-half display with a goal when he made space for himself two minutes later, but dragged his right-foot effort wide of the post.
Hoolahan was clearly enjoying the freedom he was being afforded in between the lines to link up midfield and attack, although the Latvian defence started to make a better fist of things as the half-time whistle approached.
McClean took aim from distance inside the final minutes of the half after Ward had laid back McCarthy's long ball to him, but once again, he was unable to hit the target.
The visitors made a second change at the break when striker Maris Verpakovskis was replaced by Eduards Visnakovs, and they might have been back in it within seconds of the restart.
Fertovs was allowed to make up ground before unleashing a right-footed effort which maintained Westwood's interest until it sailed over his crossbar.
The Sunderland keeper had to come from his line five minutes later to claim Visnakovs' low cross after he had been played in by Valerijs Sabala, but there was little support for the pair in the middle.
But Latvia captain Kaspars Gorkss had to get his head to McClean's driven ball in with 52 minutes gone after the midfielder had been picked out on the left by Keane.
McGeady skied a volley over after running on to Keane's lay-off three minutes later with Ireland flexing their muscles once again.
Gabovs found his way into Swedish referee Andreas Ekberg's notebook for an untidy challenge on McClean, and the victim might have increased the defender's woes when he was set up by Hoolahan in front of goal, but he fired high over.
The Latvian goal was starting to lead a charmed life and defender Renars Rode was relieved to see the ball rebound off him into Vanins' waiting arms after Keane had got a touch to a 60th-minute cross ahead of him.
Vanins got his positioning right three minutes later to beat away McGeady's left-foot piledriver with his defenders retreating deeper by the minute.
But the former Celtic man finally got his reward when he let fly right-footed from 25 yards with 68 minutes on the clock to beat the keeper inside his right post and make it 2-0.
O'Neill made a triple substitution with 17 minutes remaining when he replaced McGeady, Keane and Hoolahan with Andy Reid, Jon Walters and Shane Long to rapturous applause.
Newcomer Reid tested Vanins with a curling 76th-minute attempt which the keeper turned around the post at full-stretch.
But he was beaten once again with 11 minutes remaining when Walters fed Seamus Coleman down the right and his cross was turned home by Long.
The final whistle could not come soon enough for the visitors as Ireland pressed for a fourth with substitute Anthony Stokes forcing a flying save from Vanins at the end.