Belgrade (AFP) – Daryl Murphy’s first ever international goal secured the Republic of Ireland a 2-2 draw against Serbia in an entertaining 2018 World Cup qualifier on Monday.
Murphy had come on only four minutes before he restored parity after the hosts — who have mounted a revival and are unbeaten in five games under 63-year-old coach Slavoljub Muslin — had recovered from 1-0 down to lead 2-1.
Jeff Hendrick, whose impressive Euro 2016 performances earned him a move to English Premier League side Burnley last week, opened his account for the Irish in the third minute before the impressive Filip Kostic levelled with what was also his first goal for his country just after the hour mark.
Playing in front of a half-empty stadium as fans registered their disdain for their woeful form which has seen them fail to qualify for the past three major finals, Serbia took the lead through a penalty from Southampton’s Dusan Tadic, and he celebrated by sucking his thumb to welcome the recent birth of his second child.
Hendrick struck the opener as his shot from just outside the box took a significant deflection off Serbian skipper Branislav Ivanovic after the hosts had struggled to clear a free-kick.
Irish veteran John O’Shea, playing his 115th game for his country, found Shane Long and his lay-back to Hendrick was well hit even if it ended up getting help from Ivanovic.
Serbia, with stars Aleksandar Kolarov and Nemanja Matic missing through suspension, took time to gel — understandably given there were only three players remaining from their last Euro 2016 qualifier.
They should really have gone in on level terms at the break though, as with their final attack Tadic put in a wicked low cross which Darren Randolph could only beat out to the feet of Newcastle United striker Aleksandar Mitrovic.
However, he failed to control the ball and the Irish were able to clear — the Serbs exiting to the jeers of the supporters who had turned up.
Kostic though levelled matters just after the hour mark.
O’Shea got completely outfoxed by Tadic in the box and, with Irish skipper Seamus Coleman having drifted off marking Kostic, the 23-year-old Hamburg midfielder made no mistake from close range.
Kostic was at the centre of the 68th-minute penalty award as he burst into the area and went down as if he’d been clipped by Jon Walters. Hungarian referee Viktor Kassai didn’t hesitate in pointing to the spot.
Tadic showed no nerves in converting it.
The Irish were hugely fortunate not to go 3-1 down minutes later as Randolph made a mess of catching a shot and the ball fell to substitute Andrija Pavlovic, but with just the ‘keeper to beat and only yards out he hit the crossbar.
The Irish sparked back into life after those reverses and Murphy drew them level 10 minutes from time, meeting Robbie Brady’s corner with a powerful header.
Serbia stormed back and Ivanovic should have done better after being found on his own in the box. Randolph did well to block his effort and although the ball rebounded off an Irish defender, Coleman was on the line to clear.
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