29.03.2016 at 15:00 Aviva Stadium
Republic of Ireland
2 - 2
Referee: Ola Ober Nielsen (Norway)
Paul Mc Shane
James Mc Carthy
Eunan O Kane
James Mc Clean
IRELAND ENDED THEIR double header of Dublin friendlies with a spirited 2-2 draw against Slovakia at the Aviva Stadium tonight.
30,217 were in attendance as Miroslav Stoch put the away side ahead early on before Shane Long and James McClean struck first half penalties and Paul McShane deflected the ball into his own net on the stroke of half-time.
After Friday night’s 1-0 win over Switzerland, Martin O’Neill opted to ring in the changes with Long the sole survivor in the starting line-up.
As promised, Newcastle goalkeeper Rob Elliot was rewarded for his club form with an opportunity to push Darren Randolph for the number one shirt in just his second start at international level.
A whole new back four saw captain John O’Shea partner Reading skipper McShane at centre-half, while Cyrus Christie and Stephen Ward occupied the full-back positions.
First team regulars Glenn Whelan and James McCarthy were restored to a diamond midfield along with Bournemouth’s Eunan O’Kane, earning a second senior cap after his debut on Friday, and Wes Hoolahan the furthest forward of the quartet.
That meant James McClean started up front alongside the squad’s only fit out-and-out striker Shane Long.
Ireland began promisingly with a number of neat passing moves in the centre of the park, with Hoolahan heavily involved and O’Kane, Whelan and McCarthy all getting plenty of touches.
McShane was needed to head clear a Slovakian cross on 10 minutes and from the resulting corner, the home side broke through Long.
He fed McClean and looked for it back but the West Brom man cut inside onto his favoured left and forced the first save of the night out of Matus Kozacik.
It was Slovakia who drew first blood on 14 minutes, however. McShane misjudged a header and allowed Erik Sabo free down the right.
The PAOK midfielder got his head up and squared to ex-Chelsea winger Miroslav Stoch, who finished emphatically.
To make matters worse, Elliot twisted his knee while attempting the save and had to be replaced by Darren Randolph.
Encouragingly, Irish heads didn’t drop after conceding and they were awarded a penalty by Norwegian referee Ola Ober Nielsen on 22 minutes when Long latched onto O’Kane’s through pass and went down under a challenge from Kozacik.
The Southampton striker picked himself up and drilled the ball into the bottom corner.
Just two minutes later, a clumsy challenge from Martin Skrtel gifted the Boys in Green a second spot-kick as the Liverpool centre-half bundled Long over after his exquisite touch from Randolph’s long punt down field.
This time McClean dispatched from 12 yards to score his fifth international goal.
It looked like Ireland would go into the break in front but Slovakia were to draw level just before the half-time whistle.
Pekarik got himself to the end line and attempted to cut the ball back for Vittek, but it came off McShane and beat Randolph at the near post.
Having taken a knock late in the first half, Long and was replaced by Robbie Brady at the restart while Alex Pearce came in for O’Shea.
The former switch saw Hoolahan pushed further forward with his Norwich club mate taking his place at the top of the diamond.
And they dominated possession in the early stages of the second half without creating much in the way of clear-cut chances.
Slovakia appeared content to sit back and soak up the pressure but Stoch did break free on the counter attack with 60 minutes played but his effort was straight at Randolph.
The tempo inevitably died down during the final minutes as a result of several substitutes on both sides and the full-time whistle went with the game tied at 2-2.
O’Neill will be pleased with the week’s work after coming away with a win and a draw but the number of injuries picked up could be a worry depending on their severity.
IRELAND: Rob Elliot (Darren Randolph 16), Cyrus Christie, John O’Shea (Alex Pearce 45), Paul McShane, Stephen Ward (Jonny Hayes 78), Eunan O’Kane (Anthony Pilkington 65), Glenn Whelan, James McCarthy, Wes Hoolahan (Aiden McGeady 72), Shane Long (Robbie Brady 45), James McClean.
SLOVAKIA: Matus Kozacik, Peter Pekarik, Martin Skrtel, Jan Gregus (Patrik Hrosovsky 74), Stanislav Sestak (Robert Mak 64), Miroslav Stoch (Vladimir Weiss 64), Robert Vittek (Adam Nemec 64), Erik Sabo Ondrej Duda 64), Kornel Salata, Marek Hamsik, Dusan Svento (Lukas Tesak 88).
Referee: Ola Ober Nielsen (Norway).