David McGoldrick chose the perfect moment to score his first international goal as the Republic of Ireland hit back to snatch a priceless 1-1 Euro 2020 qualifier draw against Switzerland.
The Sheffield United striker powered home an 85th-minute header seconds after Glenn Whelan had rattled the crossbar just when it look as though Fabian Schar’s earlier effort had handed the Group D favourites victory in Dublin.
In truth, the Swiss would have been good value for the win having dominated much of the game at the Aviva Stadium, but Ireland’s tenacity once again proved invaluable as they emerged with tangible reward from a game in which they were largely second-best.
Switzerland, who are ranked 21 placed higher than Mick McCarthy’s men by FIFA, remain six points adrift having played two games fewer, and while the Republic face a difficult double-header in Georgia and the return in Geneva next month, hopes of qualification remain very much alive.
The Swiss, who face minnows Gibraltar on Sunday, left the Aviva Stadium wondering quite how they were doing so without all the points after the impressive Denis Zakaria and Breel Embolo made light of star man Xherdan Shaqiri’s unavailability.
McCarthy’s men went close to taking a 13th-minute lead when Robinson flicked Whelan’s header into the path of Jeff Hendrick, who slipped a pass to James McClean and saw the Stoke man’s initial effort blocked by Kevin Mbabu and his follow-up comfortably saved by Yann Sommer.
Striker Embolo’s pace and willingness to drop deep in search of the ball were causing the home side problems, but it was midfielder Zakaria who almost sprang the trap when he picked out Haris Seferovic’s run, although Duffy repelled his well-struck effort with a timely challenge.
Schar blazed high over after Darren Randolph had failed to cling on to Ricardo Rodriguez’s corner under pressure with the visitors building momentum and the Republic searching for cohesion, but the Middlesbrough keeper dealt far more comfortably with Zakaria’s 31st-minute strike from distance.
McGoldrick scuffed a shot on the turn harmlessly wide after Hendrick, Seamus Coleman and he had combined in their side’s most fluent move of the half, but it was he who carved the visitors’ defence wide-open a minute before the break when he skipped past Schar on the right only to deliver his cross too far ahead of the unmarked Robinson in the middle.
Ireland returned determined to stamp their authority on the game by pressing higher and attempting to limit the space afforded to Mbabu and Rodriguez out wide, but Switzerland were dangerous on the break and Enda Stevens had to stem a lighting break by Embolo after he had run away from Whelan from halfway.
McCarthy’s men were forced into retreat once again and were fortunate to escape when Embolo slipped as he prepared to shoot after Remo Freuler had laid off Zakaria’s 62nd-minute pass perfectly for him.
Substitute Alan Judge headed away Embolo’s cross with Rodriguez waiting to meet it beyond the far post seconds later and Schar was left with a painful reminder of his trip to Dublin after Stevens clattered into him in pursuit of a high ball prompting Swiss claims for a penalty.
But the Magpies defender responded with 16 minutes remaining when, not for the first time, he surged forward and exchanged passes with Embolo on the edge of the box before finishing expertly in the bottom corner.
However, there was to be a late twist as Ireland launched a desperate assault and after Whelan had left the goal-frame shaking with a long-range thunderbolt, McGoldrick rose to power home the equaliser from McClean’s deflected cross and snatch a point.
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