Belfast Telegraph

Walters salvages a point for a lacklustre Republic

Rep of Ireland 1 Austria 1

By Damian Spellman

Jonathan Walters got the Republic of Ireland out of jail as Austria threatened to dent their World Cup qualification hopes. Walters' 85th-minute equaliser to earn a 1-1 draw ensures the Republic will head into September's Group D double-header against Georgia and Serbia still unbeaten and four points clear of the Austrians, who left Dublin wondering just how they had taken only a point.

The Austrians had been exercised by Ireland assistant manager Roy Keane's exhortation to his players to "go to war" at the Aviva Stadium, but the home side's initial efforts barely amounted to a skirmish until they eventually threw caution to the wind.

Even Robbie Brady and Jeff Hendrick, the stars of the nation's Euro 2016 finals campaign, were largely becalmed as a chance to take a huge stride towards Russia very nearly went begging, and they will have to be much better in their remaining four games if they are to make it to Russia.

Manager Martin O'Neill handed a third cap and a competitive debut to Burnley defender Kevin Long, who could hardly have dreamt that would be his reward for missing out on being best man at his brother's wedding last weekend.

Having employed Walters as a lone striker and asked James McClean, Hendrick and Brady to support him, the manager was forced into a re-think with just 36 minutes played after seeing his team labour to create anything of note.

By that point, they were already trailing with full-back Martin Hinteregger having blasted the visitors into a 31st-minute lead after defender Sebastian Prodl dummied David Alaba's out-swinging corner.

It was no more than they deserved from a half during which Alaba and Hinteregger down one wing and Valentino Lazaro and Stefan Lainer down the other had got forward at will to put Ireland under pressure.

Both full-back Cyrus Christie and Brady, who endured one of his least effective halves of football for his country, were booked as they attempted to stem the tide.

The Republic needed an early response and resumed in encouraging fashion when defender Duffy headed just wide, although they might have fallen further behind when Alaba skied a shot and Zlatko Junuzovic was denied by Duffy's last-ditch block.

Harry Arter dragged a 55th-minute shot wide when he might have done better, and that prompted O'Neill to make his move, sending on striker Daryl Murphy for left back Stephen Ward.

But the drama only arrived in the closing stages with the Republic going for broke.

Long saw his 80th-minute header hacked off the line by Lainer, but the home side were not to be denied and they levelled five minutes later when Walters smashed a dipping volley across goalkeeper Heinz Lindner and into the bottom corner.

Ireland thought they had won it when Duffy bundled the ball home from close range after Florian Grillitsch hacked the ball towards his own goal, but Spanish referee David Borbalan had spotted a foul on Lainer on the line and chalked it off.

Republic: Randolph, Christie, Duffy, Long, Ward (Murphy 56), Arter (Hoolahan 71), Whelan (McGeady 77), Brady, Hendrick, McClean, Walters. Subs not used: Westwood, Pearce, O’Shea, Keogh, O’Kane, Horgan, Hourihane, Doyle, Hayes.

Austria: Lindner, Lainer, Dragovic, Prödl, Hinteregger, Baumgartlinger, Lazaro, Alaba, Junuzovic (Grillitsch 79), Kainz (Gregoritsch 90), Burgstaller (Harnik 75).

Subs not used: Wimmer, Laimer, Kuster, Stangl, Schaub, Klein, Danso, Alar, Bachmann

Match rating: 6/10

Referee: David Borbalán (Spain)

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