Sean St Ledger is confident the Republic of Ireland can deliver the perfect response to their critics by booking a trip to the FIFA World Cup™ finals.

Giovanni Trapattoni's side ended their Group 8 qualifying campaign in disappointing style last night when they could only draw 0-0 with Montenegro at Croke Park. The result was largely immaterial, with Ireland having already secured their place in next month's play-offs, and with the manager having made six changes to the side which fell just short of a famous victory over reigning champions Italy on Saturday, there was a sense of anti-climax about the whole affair.

However, the point at least saw the Irish end the group stage unbeaten in their 10 games at the end of a week when Trapattoni's detractors were at their most vociferous. Nevertheless, St Ledger insists that he and his team-mates can answer all the criticism when they meet up again next month for two crucial games against either France, Russia, Portugal or Greece.

He said: "I would say we are in the play-offs - that's the best way to answer it. When we were seeded for this group, we were not seeded second, so we have over-achieved, really.

"If we won the World Cup and didn't play very well, would people moan? I don't think they would. Everyone has an opinion - football is a game of opinions. Pundits can express their opinions and every fans who comes and pays their money maybe has a different opinion to you or I. But that's life, it's the sort of thing you just have to put up with.

"Some of the press has been a little bit negative, but such is life. To call our performance 'shameful' on Saturday was a little bit harsh, but everyone has the right to an opinion and that was his [Dunphy's] opinion, so fair enough."

When we were seeded for this group, we were not seeded second, so we have over-achieved.

Republic of Ireland's Sean St Ledger

However, Middlesbrough defender St Ledger knows there will be little margin for error when the Republic run out on 14 and 18 November.

He said: "We are going to be coming up against a very good team, so we are probably going to have to step up another level. That's the nature of being in the play-offs. The best teams have got through to the World Cup and now the remaining ones are there.

"They are there for a reason, we are there for a reason and they are going to be really, really tough games. Whoever we are going to get at this stage is going to be a tough team to play, but I feel we can beat anybody.

"We are unbeaten in the campaign, and I would imagine it's a long time since that has happened. That's what the boss has brought in here, a lot of steel, grit and mentality not to lose."

St Ledger has enjoyed a meteoric rise since winning his first senior international cap against Nigeria in May, and took his tally to seven with last night's game. But while he may still be something of a novice at senior international level, he has had no shortage of help from someone with far more experience, new club boss Gareth Southgate.

The 24-year-old said: "He texted me on Tuesday just saying 'Good luck', and 'When the ball goes square or back, make sure you squeeze up'. It's good coming from a centre-half who played for England and at the top level, and I am sure with the play-off game coming up, he will have quite a lot of tips to give me."

Whether or not Southgate is able to help his player to cope with being robbed of his place in Irish history, however, remains to be seen. It was his 87th-minute header which have the Republic a 2-1 lead against Italy, only for Alberto Gilardino to snatch a point at the death.

St Ledger said with a smile: "At the time, I wasn't thinking about making history, I was thinking about getting three points and hopefully winning the group. I suppose he [Gilardino] did steal my thunder a little bit, but am not too worried about that. I am just a defender and I would rather keep a clean sheet than score a goal that makes history."