Sean Mc Caffrey made two changes from Saturday’s draw with Denmark. He called in Mark Nolan at left full and Joe Collins at left side of midfield to the exclusion of Adrian Moyles and Shane O’Connor.
Despite fears about Kieron Thorpe and James O’Brien “tummy bugs” and Sean Scannell septic throat all three passed late fitness tests.
The afternoon saw Denmark and Latvia draw 2-2 so with Azerbaijan having a win under their belt it was imperative that Ireland got a result as anything less would leave us depending on other results come Thursday.
The pitch in T . Bahramov although a fine stadium –the surface although better than Saturday left a lot to be desired.
The game started in 28degrees and Ireland looked amore composed team right from the beginning.
Azerbaijan started brightly and forced three quick corners. The defence did their job and with Laurence Gaughan’s height an advantage at the back the ball was cleared.
The only real chance fell to the Azerbaijan centre forward but James O’Brien got his body in front to block the effort.
Joe Collins was providing good deliveries but the Azerbaijan defence was covering well.
The breakthrough came on the fortieth minute, a ball played out defence saw Ian Daly set up Conor Mc Cormack and his first time shot from the edge of the box – although he was going away from goal he managed to beat the keeper on the far post. What a time to get a goal. The Azerbaijan kicked off and the referee blew for half time.
The second half – played in cooler conditions – similar to a nice July evening at home - started with Ireland in superb form, first Kurtis Byrne got past his man and made headway for the back line where he cut back a great cross which Sean Scannell missed and it fell invitingly to Joe Collins but he screwed his shot across the face of the goal.
Then David Joyce had a great heard from a corner that the keeper failed to hold at the first attempt but there was nobody on hand to slot the ball home.
The third attempt on the 58th minute saw Kurtis Byrne have a great shot from sixteen yards but the keeper got his hand to it to tip over the bar.
The resulting free kick saw Joe Collins cross majestically to the back post where Gareth Matthews (pictured above) got his head to it and rifled it to the back of the net for his first ever goal for Ireland.
Kieran Thorpe had his only action of the game in the twenty fifth minute when the right winger had a shot from 20 yards that Thorpe palmed away and David Joyce tapped out for a fruitless corner.
Azerbaijan made three changes to the team but were unable to break down a stubborn Irish defence in which Laurence Gaughan was majestic until his injury – substitute Paul Honoghan, Mark Nolan and Gareth Matthews who never put a foot wrong. They were well protected by the two central midfielders James O’Brien and Conor Mc Cormack and Ian Daly got through a lot of work up front.
This result leaves Ireland with the task now of getting a draw against Latvia on Thursday to qualify for the next phase of the European Championships
The only draw back is that Ireland are back to that awful pitch for the game against Latvia
Thursday 28th September
Both games kick off at 18.00 (2pm Irish time)
Denmark v Azerbaijan
Rep Of Ireland v Latvia
Ireland: Thorpe, Matthews, Joyce, Gaughan, Nolan, Byrne, Mc Cormack, O’Brien, Joe Collins, Daly Scannell.
Subs: Honoghan for Gaughan 61 mins, O’Connor for Joe Collins 65mins, Michael Collins for Scannell 70 minutes.