Daryl Murphy scored twice as the Republic of Ireland kept alive their hopes of qualifying for next year’s World Cup with a 2-0 victory over Moldova on Friday.
Having scored just once in his previous 28 appearances, Murphy trebled his international tally at the Aviva Stadium, including breaking the deadlock inside two minutes.
After volleying the hosts ahead from close range, the striker added a second with a clever header to help Ireland record their first competitive win since a 1-0 triumph in Austria last November.
Moldova were reduced to 10 men when Alexandru Gatcan was shown a straight red card for barging into Harry Arter, with three points that mean Martin O’Neill’s side remain in the hunt for a top-two finish in Group D secured.
Only a win will do when they visit second-place Wales on Monday, while leaders Serbia complete their campaign by hosting Georgia on the same date.
4 – Ireland have scored four goals in the opening five minutes of games in 2018 WC qualifying; the most of any European side. Sharp.
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) October 6, 2017
The final margin of victory would have been greater had Shane Long taken any of the three glorious chances that came his way.
There were no such issues for Murphy, who – in the absence of Jonathan Walters – made the most of the opportunity to start by scoring twice in the opening 20 minutes.
Reacting quickly to a flick-on from a long throw on the left, the Nottingham Forest forward beat his defender on the stretch to provide the finishing touch.
Murphy’s second was an even better finish, though. Despite moving away from goal, he adjusted his body to meet Stephen Ward’s deep cross with a looping header that had enough height to clear goalkeeper Ilie Cebanu and dip into the far corner of the net.
Moldova’s best opportunity in the opening half saw a speculative volley by Sergiu Platica force Darren Randolph to acrobatically tip over the bar.
Ireland struggled for fluency in a tepid second half, although they never appeared in any danger of allowing the underdogs to bite back.
After twice fluffing his lines before the break, Long appeared set to score when Callum O’Dowda’s shot was deflected into his path. However, with most of the goal to aim at, the forward stabbed the loose ball agonisingly wide of the target, much to his obvious frustration.
Moldova barely offered much of a fight until it came to stoppage time, Gatcan shown a straight red after colliding with Arter.
While the substitute certainly felt the contact, Ireland escaped a potential knockout blow to their hopes of making it to Russia.
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