Republic of Ireland moved five points clear at the top of Group D in their Euro 2020 qualifying campaign with a laboured 2-0 win against Gibraltar.
Joseph Chipolina’s own goal was all that separated the sides until Robbie Brady’s thumping injury-time header.
Brady’s late goal added some gloss to what was another frustrating night for Mick McCarthy’s side against Gibraltar.
Denmark’s 5-1 defeat of Georgia allowed the Irish to extend their pool lead but with more difficult games remaining.
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McCarthy’s side must play both of their matches against top seeds Switzerland in the autumn and will complete their European Championship qualifying campaign at home to Denmark on 18 November.
Gibraltar park the bus as the Republic’s breaks down
The Republic squad’s arrival at the Aviva Stadium was delayed by 40 minutes after their team bus broke down but the shortened warm up did not deter the home side from playing with ambition against a team that they had struggled to break down in their opening Euro 2020 qualifier.
McCarthy handed Scott Hogan and Callum Robinson their first competitive starts in a more attack-minded 4-4-2 than the 4-3-3 shape employed in the 1-1 draw in Copenhagen last week, with Brady and Glenn Whelan the pair to make way.
Hogan, who spent the second half of last season on loan at Sheffield United, showed a good understanding with Blades’ striker David McGoldrick in the opening exchanges, with the Aston Villa forward producing a delicate touch to offer his strike partner an early sight of goal that he flashed over from a narrow angle.
Gibraltar, with Real Oviedo-bound Tjay De Barr in a lone attacking role, were content to pack their defence and frustrate their hosts with Hogan caught offside three times in the opening 20 minutes.
Lucky break for the opener
The Republic’s opening goal came just after Gibraltar had produced their most threatening passage of play and Jeff Hendrick had to be alert to track back and intercept a crucial pass with his defence exposed.
Ireland immediately countered down the right through Seamus Coleman and Robinson.
Robinson’s through pass rebounded back to Coleman and the Ireland captain’s pull back found McGoldrick, whose instinctive shot was going wide before taking a heavy deflection off Joseph Chipolina to divert the ball into the net – denying the impressive McGoldrick a first international goal.
The goal revived the Irish attack and Robinson had three opportunities to score, including a back-heeled flick that trickled wide and a curling left-footed strike that was just off the mark as the hosts threatened to double their lead.
Brady makes an impact
The Republic had over 70% possession against a team ranked 195th in the world but for the second time in this campaign they were frustrated by a side of largely part-time players.
Coleman and Robinson’s burgeoning partnership on the right flank was a constant threat as the hosts dominated a one-sided but turgid second half.
Hogan forced a good save from Gibraltar goalkeeper Kyle Godwin at his near post and McGoldrick cut in off the left wing and smashed a shot against the post but the home supporters were growing restless as the minutes ticked by and further chances were missed.
Brady, who replaced Robinson, fired a late shot over the bar before finishing off Ireland’s best move of the night in the 92nd minute.
Conor Hourihane’s raking cross-field pass found James McClean in space and his whipped cross found Burnley midfielder Brady arriving at the back post to plant a spectacular header into the roof of the net.
The Irish players celebrated their late breakthrough with a mixture of elation and relief. They remain unbeaten in McCarthy’s second spell in charge but with far more difficult tests still to come.