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Republic on a high


Great start: The Republic of Ireland’s Anthony Pilkington celebrates his opening goal at the Aviva Stadium with team-mate Daryl Murphy

Great start: The Republic of Ireland’s Anthony Pilkington celebrates his opening goal at the Aviva Stadium with team-mate Daryl Murphy

?INPHO/Donall Farmer

Great start: The Republic of Ireland’s Anthony Pilkington celebrates his opening goal at the Aviva Stadium with team-mate Daryl Murphy

This was the right kind of distraction, an enjoyable game of football to end an enervating week on a positive note for Martin O'Neill.

November friendlies have a reputation for being about as enjoyable as a cold sore but, in the long winter, reflection on this exercise will give the Republic manager some comfort.

His fate will be determined by Irish performances at the Aviva Stadium in 2015 and it felt more like home last night as an overhauled team turned on the style in the dying stages to put an emphatic look on the winning scoreline against an experimental USA.

O'Neill will know that the decisive tests with Poland and Scotland will be tighter contests, but the attacking ambition on show here will encourage him greatly.

In particular, it is clear that debutant David McGoldrick has the vision to unlock defences.

He assisted two Republic goals and while there is always a danger of getting carried away by one good display, there is an obvious temptation for O'Neill to throw him into the competitive tests ahead.

Late goals by James McClean and Robbie Brady put a gloss on the scoreline and Shay Given was called into action to keep the Republic ahead midway through the second half. Still, the report card had far more pluses than minuses and O'Neill wore a broad smile as he shook hands with Jurgen Klinsmann.

On the five-year anniversary of Thierry Henry's handball, the only anger on show last night was in the first half behind the goal of Given.

Furious Republic fans, who blame the FAI for the problems which left a number of regulars without tickets for Friday's defeat in Scotland, sang songs about chief executive John Delaney and were prevented from unveiling banners by security.

On the pitch, meanwhile, the challenge for O'Neill and his players was to put in a display which prevented bad vibes around their Euro 2016 prospects lingering.

He made 11 changes from Scotland, rewarding the players who have been around the camp for the autumn without really getting a look-in. And, significantly, this was also a chance to monitor the effectiveness of debutants Cyrus Christie and McGoldrick.

Over the past week, O'Neill has struggled to disguise his optimism about the impact the latter could make and within seven minutes that judgment was vindicated as the 26-year-old collected a pass from Anthony Pilkington and then executed the one-two that was brilliantly converted by the Cardiff winger.

O'Neill paired his fresh recruit with his Ipswich colleague Daryl Murphy and their familiarity with each other was evident in a makeshift side featuring Brady at left back, skipper David Meyler in the centre of the park next to Stephen Quinn and Pilkington and Anthony Stokes on either flank. McGoldrick was pushed forward alongside Murphy and was the foremost Irish attacker.

Alex Pearce, selected alongside Ciaran Clark in the centre of defence, had to be alert to rise ahead of US skipper Jozy Altidore as the red-shirted visitors pushed for a leveller.

And the game's second goal went to Klinsmann's charges and the genesis was a loss of concentration by Meyler. When he gifted the ball to the opposition, the US struck with intent and an Altidore lob was cushioned by Chris Wondolowski into the path of Mix Diskerud, who did the rest.

The Republic made no changes at the break and it was Altidore who threatened again with his right footer blocked by Given. The overlapping Christie responded by cheering the locals with another spirited advance.

Ten minutes into the second half, it was the other newcomer who grabbed the spotlight again. This time, it was American messing that proved costly as they ran into trouble at their own corner flag. Irish bodies pressed and the ball eventually made its way to McGoldrick, whose reverse pass was dispatched by Brady.

Team USA were in the ascendency as the game entered its final quarter with Christie tested defensively and the centre halves called on.

The Republic bench began to have an impact, though, and a break from new arrival Shane Long ended in agony when the Southampton man's shot struck the post, but the ball stayed in play and McClean's deflected attempt off Geoff Cameron settled the game as a contest.

Brady saved the best for last, stepping up to dispatch a technically perfect free-kick over the American wall and into the top corner of the net. More of the same in 2015 would do just nicely.

Belfast Telegraph