Paul McShane upstaged centurion Shay Given as the Republic of Ireland ended their 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ Group 8 campaign unbeaten. The defender unwittingly blocked Montenegro midfielder Simon Vukcevic's goal-bound 66th-minute and Ireland survived. Richard Dunne had earlier hit the bar with a first-half header, but only after the visitors' captain Branko Boskovic had headed wide with just Given to beat.
The first stage of the Republic's qualifying mission therefore ended with a whimper as a sixth draw to go with their four wins ensured they head into next month's play-off games without a defeat to their names. But on a night when Given and full-back Kevin Kilbane made 100th appearances for their country, there was little else to cheer.
Given did at least manage to negotiate the 90 minutes without picking up a booking, which would have ruled him out of the first leg of the play-off, but manager Giovanni Trapattoni had midfielder Martin Rowlands carried off with what looked like a bad knee injury.
Trapattoni had insisted in the run-up to the game that he would take no risks, other than the calculated gamble on Given, with those players walking a disciplinary tightrope - and he was as good as his word as Aiden McGeady and Keith Andrews did not even make the bench. Having had his side book their place in the play-offs courtesy of Saturday's 2-2 draw with Italy, the Republic coach made no fewer than six changes, handing the likes of McShane, Rowlands, Liam Miller and Noel Hunt another chance to impress in a competitive game.
Rowlands, however, was back in the dressing room within 39 minutes, arriving in agony on a stretcher after catching his studs in the turf and twisting his knee. But by the time the manager and the rest of the players got there, the midfielder's plight would not have been the main topic of conversation.
There was little other than pride resting on tonight's result, and for long periods the contest had the air of a friendly about it. But if the home side ever thought Montenegro, who claimed their first ever competitive victory at the weekend when they beat Georgia, would lie down and accept their fate they were to be sadly disappointed.
Trapattoni's men went close with 27 minutes gone when Stephen Hunt picked out Damien Duff in acres of space wide on the right. The Fulham midfielder raced into the box, but with Robbie Keane and Noel Hunt begging for a pass, he shot harmlessly into the side-netting.
The Irish were almost made to pay for the miss within seconds when Nikola Drincic's swerving long-range effort flicked off Sean St. Ledger's head and briefly threatened to wrong-foot Given. But the Ireland goalkeeper heaved a huge sigh of relief as Montenegro sensed their chance, with unmarked captain Boskovic heading wastefully wide from full-back Milan Jovanovic's cross.
After a promising start, Ireland had lost their way and it was not until the final few minutes of the half that they flexed their muscles once again. Dunne was unfortunate to see his towering header from Stephen Hunt's 42nd-minute free-kick come back off the underside of the bar, and Keane fired over on the turn as the Republic put the squeeze on.
Trapattoni's men returned in determined mood, but continued to find Montenegro difficult to break down and with Milorad Pekovic looking to hit lone striker Andrija Delibasic and attacking midfielder Vukcevic with a series of long balls, they had to remain alert at the back.
Drincic made sure Given remained on his toes with another long-range effort that sped just past the goalkeeper's right post with 58 minutes gone, but opposite number Vukasin Poleksic had to get down well to keep out Keane's snap shot on the hour. However, it was then that the home side enjoyed their stroke of good fortune.
Full-back Elsad Zverotic's pass found Vukcevic in space inside the box, and he elegantly evaded lunging challenges from St. Ledger and Dunne before shooting towards goal. But his effort cannoned back off McShane.
If anything, the visitors enjoyed the better of the game as time ran down. But neither side really threatened to snatch all three points in a tame conclusion that was in stark contract to the one the home fans at Croke Park witnessed on Saturday.