28.03.2007 at 19:30 Croke Park
Republic of Ireland
1 - 0
Referee: Yuri Baskakov (Russia)
European Cup Qualifier / Prog-match
Paul Mc Shane
Aidan Mc Geady
Republic of Ireland 1 Slovakia 0
Statto 80th cap for Shay Given- Captains side for first time.
Republic of Ireland manager Steve Staunton can enjoy his summer holidays happy in the knowledge his job is safe for the rest of the European Championship qualifying campaign.
Reading striker Kevin Doyle was the hero on this occasion with a 12th-minute winner that keeps Ireland in the hunt for a top-two finish in Group D, and with it a place in next year's finals.
The win was the Republic's fourth successive group victory, a feat achieved on only three previous occasions in their history when they qualified for the 1990, 1994 and 2002 World Cup finals.
It was also a retort to Staunton's critics, as the barbs that followed Saturday's victory over Wales had done little to foster relations between the 38-year-old and the media.
Even the fans had made their feelings known by jeering the players prior to Dublin hero Bernard Dunne's latest successful defence of his European super-bantamweight title on Sunday.
The briefest of pitchside briefings followed on Monday - lasting a mere 32 seconds - and then there was the united stance adopted at yesterday's pre-match press conference.
Staunton was flanked by four of his most-senior players in Shay Given, Richard Dunne, Damien Duff and Kevin Kilbane.
This was a time for Staunton's players to deliver because even Duff conceded it was not the manager's fault if they were unable to pass the ball 10 yards as they so often failed to do against the Welsh.
At least Staunton adopted a more attacking line-up by deploying two natural wingers on the flanks in Duff and Celtic's young star Aiden McGeady, with Stephen Ireland in behind Doyle.
In light of such positivity, it was no surprise there was more action in the opening 15 minutes of this game than the entire dire 90 versus Wales.
The Slovaks, desperate for victory themselves under new coach Jan Kocian following heavy home defeats last year to Germany and the Czech Republic, threatened in the opening minutes following a delayed start due to traffic congestion around the ground.
Given, captaining the side in the absence of the suspended Robbie Keane and on his 80th cap to equal the Republic goalkeeping record of Packie Bonner, was forced to push an early Robert Vittek shot beyond the post.
It was a decisive statement of intent from Given as the ball was heading wide in any case, and it proved calming for those in front of him.
What was ultimately required was an early goal to help settle the nerves, and it duly arrived in the 12th minute following a foul on Lee Carsley from former Blackburn defender Vratislav Gresko.
Duff had found himself caged on the left flank in the opening exchanges by two markers every time he received the ball.
But free to curl a free-kick into the near post, he picked out Doyle who rose above Martin Skrtel to plant a downward header inside the left-hand post of Kamil Contofalsky.
Inevitable pressure followed from the Slovaks, resulting in Marek Sapara glancing a header nowhere from an unmarked position inside the area when he should have tested Given.
The Newcastle number one then showed his agility with a one-handed stop in diving to his right, turning aside a 25-yard drive from Vittek in the 24th minute.
What then followed for the remainder of the half was an open, end-to-end game dominated by two strong defences as opportunities were in short supply.
Doyle, though, should undoubtedly have done better in a three-on-two break just after the half hour, electing to tamely shoot when a frustrated Duff was unmarked on the overlap.
But what followed after the interval was a case of deja vu as witnessed against Wales as Ireland started brightly enough.
However, they began to lose possession in key areas, again giving the ball away too cheaply and inviting the Slovaks to dictate the game.
Ireland, though, cannot be faulted defensively, and if there was one moment that epitomised their strength in that area, it came on the hour.
An incisive through ball from Igor Zofcak found Martin Jakubko on the edge of the six-yard box, only for Paul McShane to produce a crunching tackle as the Slovak midfielder was poised to shoot.
Again it took the introduction of Stephen Hunt to revive Ireland in the 70th minute, followed soon after by Royals team-mate Shane Long.
The latter should have wrapped up victory just before the 80th minute courtesy of two piercing deliveries provided by Hunt.
The first, from a corner, saw Gresko clear a header off the line from Long, while the second a minute later saw him head wide in an unmarked position eight yards out.
There was one late Given block to deny sub Filip Holosko before the proverbial roof was lifted off Croke Park when the whistle sounded on a night to remember for Staunton.
Sir Bobby Robson demanded Republic of Ireland boss Steve Staunton now be allowed "to live a life" following the 1-0 Euro 2008 qualifying victory over Slovakia
Ireland's international football consultant Robson launched into a vigorous defence of the previously under-pressure Staunton as he joined the 38-year-old in the post-match media conference.
Kevin Doyle's 12th-minute headed winner was enough to give Ireland the victory, and allow Staunton to head into the summer with his job safe for the remainder of the qualifying campaign.
This was Ireland's fourth successive group win, a feat achieved on just three previous occasions in their history when they went on to qualify for the 1990, 1994 and 2002 World Cups.
Although it is another six months to their next competitive match, they remain firmly in the hunt for a top-two finish in Group D, and with it a place in next summer's finals in Switzerland and Austria.
Former England manager Bobby Robson made clear his displeasure at the treatment Staunton has received in recent weeks since the great escape in San Marino, and over the past few days following the lacklustre 1-0 win over Wales.
"I rang Stan at two o'clock this afternoon and said to him 'win, lose or draw, we go into the press conference together'," stated 74-year-old Robson.
"Seeing some of the outrageous remarks and the writing over the last few days, this could have been an horrific night for Stan if we had lost, so I felt I should stand by him.
"But we haven't lost. Now let's hope we've six months of calmness, some sensibility, something constructive, intelligent, fair and reasonable."
Robson, repeatedly jabbing the table in front of him, added: "He has had a rough ride.
"Hopefully that's over now and things will settle down because we've put ourselves in a great position to attack the next few matches.
"Hopefully he gets a bit of relief. The stay of execution is over and he can now live a life. I'm delighted for him."
Underlining the task Staunton has had to face since taking over from predecessor Brian Kerr, Robson said: "We've a lot of youngsters in the team.
"We're in transition - (Shane) Long, Doyle and (Stephen) Hunt, while on the bench we've (Anthony) Stokes and (Jonathan) Douglas.
"So the team needs time to gain experience, and I'm talking about Premiership experience, not just international experience."
Echoing Robson's sentiments, Steve Staunton said: "I thought we did well, but there is room for improvement, and they will improve.
"But as Bobby said, they are young players. The young lads are learning, although they've had a taste, and there weren't too many grounds with 70,00 fans tonight."
Doyle's strike saw him nod down a Damien Duff free-kick for his second goal at international level.
As against Wales, the Republic were much the better team in the opening half, only to struggle in the second as they continually lost possession and gave the ball away in key areas.
Defensively, though, Staunton's side were superb as Shay Given - captain for the night and winning his 80th cap to equal Packie Bonner's record for an Ireland goalkeeper - was rarely tested.
"We went at them, kept the tempo high, Duff put some great little crosses in, and we scored when we were on top," assessed Staunton.
"If we hadn't have done that then we might have struggled second half, but we had something to hang onto.
"At this level you are never going to dominate the game for 90 minutes, and when they got on top, our back four and keeper were magnificent.
"Overall, I'm delighted."
Rep of Ireland Given, O'Shea, Finnan, McShane, Dunne, Carsley,Ireland (Hunt 70), McGeady (Quinn 87), Kilbane, Duff,Kevin Doyle (Long 74).
Subs Not Used: Colgan, Douglas, Kelly, Stokes.
Goals: Kevin Doyle 13.
SlovakiaContofalsky, Singlar (Sestak 79), Skrtel, Klimpl,Gresko, Svento (Michalik 87), Zofcak, Borbely,Sapara (Holosko 72), Vittek, Jakubko.
Subs Not Used: Hajduch, Strba, Cech, Kozak.