Ireland beat Moldova to remain in play-off hunt

Credit: PA

Two Daryl Murphy goals helped keep the Republic of Ireland’s World Cup play-off plans on course, sealing a 2-0 win over Moldova in Dublin.

Having agreed a two year contract extension the previous day, manager Martin O’Neill will be both delighted and relieved to secure the three points to set up a win or bust clash with Wales in Cardiff on Monday.

It was a game the home side were expected to win and they made sure of the points with a commanding first half.

With Wales winning in Georgia and leaders Serbia losing in Austria only two points separate the top three teams going into the final game.

The arithmetic is simple for Ireland - they need to beat Wales to finish in second place.

Two minutes into this encounter Ireland had the dream start, Murphy nipping in to drive the ball home after some slack defending by the visitors.

A direct approach brought a throw-in taken by Stephen Ward, this was flicked on by Shane Duffy and before the defence could react Murphy’s left boot powered home his first international goal in Dublin.

That lead was nearly doubled on 11 minutes after a swift break ended with Callum O’Dowda drilling a low shot into the side netting.

It should have been 2-0 following a delightful which move saw O’Dowda slip the ball into the centre for Shane Long who had time to pick his spot but his effort flew inches wide of the left post.

The pressure continued and it was no surprise when Ireland doubled their lead.

A brilliant pinpoint cross from Wes Hoolahan set Ward free down the left, his cross by met by the head of Murphy and the ball sailed past Cebanu in the Moldova goal with 19 minutes gone.

Two minutes later Cebanu prevented Long from adding another with a point blank save after a superb break by the home side.

Ireland keeper Darren Randolph had been a spectator up to this point, but had to be at his best when Platica connected with a half volley which was tipped over the bar.

A fine first half ended with a couple of half chances but Ireland could not add to their two goal advantage.

Moldova made a determined bid to get back into the game after the break by pushing more men forward but the green shirts remained solid in defence.

However, the best chance of the second half fell to Ireland with Long stabbing the ball wide of a gaping goal after a shot from O’Dowda deflected into his path.

A number of changes were made including an international debut for Sean Maguire who came on for the last eight minutes.

Moldova had Gatcan sent off with a straight red in injury time after his rash challenge on Harry Arter.

A fascinating encounter now awaits on Monday night to see who can reach the play-offs.