The Republic of Ireland have beaten Gibraltar 2-0 to maintain their lead at the top of Group D.
The Boys in Green took the lead through a Joseph Chipolina own goal in the first half before substitute Robbie Brady’s header in stoppage time.
It was a largely uninspiring performance which was hugely lacking in quality, but Mick McCarthy’s men have now collected 10 points from a possible 12, and have conceded just one goal in four games.
McCarthy made two changes to the team which drew 1-1 in Copenhagen, bringing in Scott Hogan and Callum Robinson for Robbie Brady and Glenn Whelan.
The Boys in Green made a bright start at the Aviva Stadium, winning successive corners in the opening minute.
Shane Duffy’s header flew over the bar after a dangerous cross from Conor Hourihane following a corner, before David McGoldrick flashed a shot wide of the near post after Hogan’s through ball less than a minute later.
Despite the bright start, Ireland struggled to break through Gibraltar’s defence, and were sloppy on the ball at times.
The home side finally made the breakthrough in the 28th minute, and the goal was fortuitous to put it mildly.
A ricochet broke kindly to Coleman on the edge of the box, and he picked out McGoldrick with a low cross.
McGoldrick’s shot was heading yards wide of the post, but a wicked deflection off Joseph Chipolina diverted it past Goldwin into the net.
The goal was initially awarded to the Sheffield United striker, before UEFA officially decreed it an own goal, meaning McGoldrick’s wait for his maiden international goal goes on.
In the 33rd minute, Coleman danced his way into the box and pulled a low ball across the area, which was almost turned into his own net by a sliding Gibraltar defender.
Four minutes later, Gibraltar ‘keeper Kyle Goldwin dived bravely on a good low cross from McGoldrick to beat the onrushing Hogan to the ball.
Two minutes before the interval, McGoldrick put Hogan through following a swift Ireland counter attack, but the striker’s touch took him too wide of Goldwin and the chance came to nothing.
Robinson – who produced an excellent left-footed cross which just evaded Hogan earlier in the half – cut inside on his weaker foot in the 45th minute and whipped a curling shot just wide of the far post.
Ireland finished the half with 10 shots, and remarkably, despite scoring, none of those were on target.
The early part of the second half heralded more of the same.
Hogan got a header all wrong in the 55th minute after another good cross from Coleman.
The hosts almost scored another bizarre goal just after the hour mark when Goldwin dropped McGoldrick’s fizzed cross, but the ‘keeper put the ball behind for a corner before Hogan could punish him.
A few minutes later, McGoldrick slipped Hogan through with a clever pass, and the Aston Villa striker forced Goldwin into a save at his near post.
It proved to be Hogan’s last chance of the game, as he was replaced by Sean Maguire seconds later.
The Preston striker felt he should have had a penalty immediately after his introduction, claiming his cross struck the arm of a Gibraltar defender inside the area, but the referee was unmoved.
In the 71st minute, McGoldrick cut into the box and hit the far post with a fine side-footed, curling effort.
Robbie Brady replaced Robinson in the 73rd minute, and the Dubliner whipped in an inviting cross soon afterwards as Ireland hunted for a second goal.
Ireland continued to have plenty of possession and set pieces, but lacked the quality in the final third to add to their lead.
Brady flashed a left-footed strike high over the bar from the edge of the box in the 88th minute, moments after Richard Keogh felt he was tripped in the box.
Ireland finally got their second goal in stoppage time.
Brady laid the ball off to Hourihane, who switched the play with a raking pass out to McClean wide on the lef.
The Derry native whipped in an excellent cross, and Brady showed great desire to steal in at the back post and head it into an empty net.
It was far from a vintage performance, but it’s another three points for the Boys in Green.
They are now five points clear of second-placed Denmark – who thumped Georgia 5-1 tonight – having played a game more than Age Hareide’s men.
Ireland are also six clear of Switzerland, who have two games in hand.
David is the editor of The Season Ticket.
He is a qualified journalist, and a long-suffering Meath and Liverpool supporter.