The Republic of Ireland defeated Moldova 3-1 at the Zimbru Stadium in Chisinau, Moldova, prevailing in their 2018 FIFA World Cup qualification match in Group D on Sunday.
The Irish claimed the lead in the second minute as Shane Long got his country off to the best possible start. However, as Ireland saw out the first half, the hosts stunned them with a breakaway goal, with Igor Bugaev providing a clinical finish.
The visitors struggled to reclaim the lead in the second half, but James McClean struck twice in the latter stages to wrestle the points away.
Ireland set up in a 4-2-3-1, with the emphasis on attack as Long led the line. Moldova sat deeper in a 4-4-2, intent on counter-attacking as they tried to pick off their opponents and exploit mistakes.
Considering the quality of the opposition, broadcaster Stan Collymore believed the night was a great opportunity for the away side:
Stan Collymore @StanCollymore
Massive chance for Ireland tonight now, especially with Serbia v Austria at the same time. #COYBIG ☘️2016-10-9 17:55:53
Ireland were in the lead in the opening moments of the game as Long finished off a glorious move through the heart of the Moldova defence.
Wes Hoolahan opened up the opposition with a world-class pass, and the striker collected the ball to fire home with composure.
Sky Football provided footage of the magic moment:
Sky Football ⚽️ @SkyFootball
Shane Long's goal scoring drought is over! He gives Ireland the lead in Moldova. Watch SS1 https://t.co/7OUzeS3EY8 https://t.co/5opjCtK1ll2016-10-9 18:52:52
MailOnline Sport commented on Long's lack of scoring in recent months:
MailOnline Sport @MailSport
Before today, Shane Long hadn't scored in 18 GAMES (club and country). Safe to say his drought is officially over https://t.co/NmpriWC9nv https://t.co/pphIaUxQNe2016-10-9 18:57:28
The Green Army dominated possession as the minutes flew by, but they failed to penetrate with conviction as Moldova soaked up the pressure.
It appeared it would be a simple night's work for Ireland as the hosts offered little going forward, but with the half-time whistle ready to be blown, Moldova caught their opponents sleepwalking in defence.
A lofted pass beat the Irish midfield and defence, and Bugaev sprinted in behind. The veteran striker approached Ireland's goal with pace, and he expertly angled his shot home past goalkeeper Darren Randolph, who stood no chance of making a save.
Sky Football provided footage of Moldova's first goal of the qualifying campaign:
Sky Football ⚽️ @SkyFootball
A potentially huge blow to Ireland's qualifying hopes! Moldova equalise just before HT. SS1 https://t.co/7OUzeS3EY8 https://t.co/xQFIM8B8Bf2016-10-9 19:44:37
Sports broadcaster Nathan Murphy was not impressed with the Irish centre-backs' positioning:
Nathan Murphy @nathanmurf
Does Shane Duffy know he's part of a centre-half partnership? What's he doing in that position so close to Clarke? #MOLIRE2016-10-9 19:39:30
ESPN's Miguel Delaney was also critical of Shane Duffy's questionable defensive skills:
Miguel Delaney @MiguelDelaney
Duffy fashioning chances in a way so fitting of a number-seven jersey... :I2016-10-9 19:34:16
Manager Martin O'Neill's team were immediately back on the front foot in the second half, displaying plenty of positivity as they searched for a second goal.
Moldova settled into the task as the Irish failed to maintain their momentum, and they crawled up the field with the ball to keep the visitors under control.
O'Neill was concerned as he paced his technical area, and he was given a further headache when Long was forced to come off with an injury.
Ireland upped the tempo in the last 25 minutes, but there was a distinct lack of quality being produced by both sides.
However, there were finally smiles of relief for the Green Army as McClean grabbed a vital goal to reclaim the lead. The attacker collected the ball inside the box, and he expertly slotted his effort away.
BBC Sport highlighted the strike by the winger as the travelling supporters burst into song:
BBC Sport @BBCSport
A big moment for the Republic of Ireland. James McClean slots them back ahead. #MOL 1-2 #IRE Live: https://t.co/hcLTlvObuo https://t.co/swaVKMEVul2016-10-9 20:16:15
The game was over as a spectacle six minutes later, when McClean tapped home from close range after darting into the box.
Seamus Coleman linked with Hoolahan, and the Everton defender whipped in his cross to find McClean for his brace.
For long periods, it appeared the night may have become a banana skin for Ireland, but they did just enough to put Moldova to the sword.
McClean's timing was perfect in the second half, and the West Bromwich Albion player was the hero his country needed as time was running out.
O'Neill was full of praise for McClean after the final whistle, and he declared his side were worthy winners in Moldova, per RTE Soccer:
RTÉ Soccer @RTEsoccer
Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill gave his reaction to the 3-1 win over Moldova to @corktod. Watch it here https://t.co/KZkr3bWrol2016-10-9 21:04:28
Ireland are back in Group D action on Nov. 12 when they visit Austria. Moldova travel to Georgia on the same day for their next qualification match.