The Republic of Ireland’s Euro 2016 qualification hopes have been well and truly reignited following a 4-0 victory over Gibraltar.
Friday’s result in Faro lifted Martin O’Neill’s side above Scotland into third place in Group D following the latter’s defeat at the hands of Georgia earlier in the day.
And although the visitors’ performance against the group whipping boys was largely underwhelming, a play-off place now looks to be firmly back on their radar.
It took Ireland 26 minutes to break down the home side’s defence, but after Cyrus Christie got the ball rolling with his first international goal, Robbie Keane grabbed a brace early in the second half and Shane Long added the fourth late on.
O’Neill was forced into a late change when Seamus Coleman tweaked a hamstring in the warm-up and had to be replaced by Christie, but the manager was able to start midfielder James McCarthy, who had been in doubt due to a knee problem.
Clearly buoyed by news of Scotland’s defeat in Tbilisi, Ireland made their intentions clear right from the opening whistle.
Jordan Perez was forced into a fine save after just six minutes to keep out a Robbie Brady free-kick and the home goalkeeper reacted smartly again soon after to foil Jonathan Walters.
The crossbar then denied Ciaran Clark after the Aston Villa man climbed highest to meet a Brady free-kick, while Keane found the side-netting having been picked out by a superb cross from Wes Hoolahan.
The group strugglers somehow managed to survive the opening quarter, but just as Irish frustration began to grow, Christie showed great skill out wide to beat two defenders and fire across Perez into the far corner of the net.
To their credit, however, Gibraltar refused to crumble and indeed almost grabbed a shock equaliser, Shay Given forced to go full-length to keep out a superb strike from the lively Liam Walker.
And for all their possession, Ireland only created one more genuine opportunity before the break, Keane heading a Brady corner narrowly wide of the target.
Keane was not to be denied for long, however, as he scored twice within the first six minutes of the second half to take his international tally to 67.
The first was a close-range tap-in after the Gibraltar defence had failed to deal with a low cross from Walters and the second came from the penalty spot in the wake of a clear foul on Hoolahan.
With nearly 40 minutes left to play, Ireland looked well-placed to produce a repeat of their 7-0 trouncing of the same opponents in Dublin back in October.
However, it was not until the 79th minute that substitute Long headed in his side’s fourth goal of the night.
With all to play for now in Group D, Ireland will be desperate to secure back-to-back wins when they welcome Georgia to the Aviva Stadium on Monday, while Gibraltar face the daunting prospect of a trip to Warsaw to face Poland.
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