Westwood save denies Macedonia
Keiren Westwood marked his first competitive start for the Republic of Ireland with a vital save to deny FYR Macedonia a battling point in Dublin and secure a 2-1 victory. Ireland joined leaders Russia and Slovakia on ten points at the top of UEFA EURO 2012 qualifying Group B as a result.
The Coventry goalkeeper, winning just his sixth senior cap, rushed from his line to deny Ivan Trickovski with 15 minutes remaining as the visitors fought back from a calamitous start. Giovanni Trapattoni insisted he had no worries about throwing Westwood in at the deep end in the absence of the injured Shay Given, and his confidence proved well-founded.
Republic of Ireland raced into a 2-0 lead within 21 minutes, thanks mainly to two errors from Macedonia goalkeeper Edin Nuredinovski.
Aiden McGeady's shot beat Nuredinovski at his near post with just 85 seconds on the clock to hand the winger his first senior international goal in his 38th appearance. The goalkeeper then spilled Darron Gibson's free-kick at the feet of skipper Robbie Keane with predictable consequences.
However, Trickovski pulled one back on the stroke of half-time to keep the game in the melting pot, and the second half was far too even for the liking of anyone wearing green.
McGeady strikes early
The game was a little more than a minute old when McGeady, who had been sent out under explicit instructions to shoot on sight, cut inside from the left and did just that. His low drive was well struck and eluded Nuredinovski's grasp to nestle in the bottom corner.
Things could not have started more perfectly for Trapattoni and his players, and they went close again with 11 minutes gone when Kevin Doyle climbed well to head down Kevin Kilbane's cross, and it took a brave intervention by the Macedonian goalkeeper to prevent Keane from extending his side's lead.
Doyle was clearly in some discomfort in the aftermath of the attack and his evening ended with just 17 minutes gone when he hobbled off, much to the concern of his international manager and no doubt Wolves boss Mick McCarthy. Shane Long replaced him and within seconds of the Reading man's arrival, Ireland extended their lead.
Gibson blasted a 21st-minute free-kick towards goal and saw Nuredinovski fumble it into the path of the ever-alert Keane, who bundled it over the line to double the dose.
If the home fans among a sparse crowd thought the points were safe, they were mistaken as Macedonia launched a spirited fightback.
With midfielder Darko Tasevski prompting behind strikers Goran Pandev and Ilco Naumoski, they began to make an impression and they got their reward on the stroke of half-time when Trickovski accepted Pandev's pass and cut inside Richard Dunne, his deft finish giving the visitors hope.
They returned in confident mood and went close to an equaliser within three minutes of the restart when Pandev guided a volley just wide from Goran Popov's teasing cross.
The Irish had resumed in sluggish fashion, but they found their tempo once again as the half wore on with McGeady seeing another rasping effort blocked and Damien Duff thumping a low drive inches wide.
Macedonia, though, were refusing to lie down and the tension mounted as they forced a series of free-kicks to fulfill at least part of Trapattoni's prophecy. But with 15 minutes remaining when midfielder Muhamed Demiri lifted the ball over Dunne to find Trickovski, and Westwood came swiftly from his line to make an invaluable block.
Keith Fahey replaced Gibson and James McCarthy was brought on for Keane as Trapattoni attempted to close the game down, but there was a tangible sense of relief when the final whistle blew.