The Republic of Ireland claimed a vital 1-0 win over Austria in their 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifier at the Ernst Happel Stadion in Vienna on Saturday to go top of Group D.
James McClean bagged the decisive goal three minutes into the second half as Ireland successfully held off a lacklustre Austria side. The victory marks Ireland's first win over Austria since 1963.
The hosts had the better start to the match and enjoyed the first chance of note, but Darren Randolph got down well to deny Marcel Sabitzer's low effort from a corner.
Somewhat against the run of play, Ireland came close to taking the lead after 13 minutes when McClean's shot deflected narrowly wide after hitting Martin Hinteregger.
Randolph had to be alert again when Sabitzer picked out Marc Janko with a cross, but the goalkeeper dealt well with his looping header.
The visitors settled well into the game, and as a result, Austria soon lost their early composure, per football writer Miguel Delaney:
Nevertheless, it took an outstanding bit of defending for Seamus Coleman to deny Marko Arnautovic. The Stoke City forward had been put clean through, but the Ireland skipper recovered to block his effort.
The best chance of the half came in the 39th minute, when Sabitzer found space on the right-hand side of the area. The striker deftly lifted the ball over the on-rushing Randolph, only to see his effort come back off the bar before Ciaran Clark flung himself in front of Janko's rebound.
Ireland also hit the woodwork through Jonathan Walters, who came close to breaking the deadlock when he slid to connect with Robbie Brady's cross, but his close-range strike grazed the bar on its way over.
The Boys in Green went ahead just minutes after the restart when Wes Hoolahan sent McClean through on the left with a sublime through ball and the West Bromwich Albion winger confidently fired through the legs of Ramazan Ozcan.
Walters had the ball in the net soon after when he nodded a Brady free-kick past Ozcan, but the goal was correctly disallowed for offside.
The Irish were buoyed by their goal but failed to capitalise on their momentum. Austria struggled to threaten at the other end, however, though substitute Louis Schaub was able to let off a strike at Randolph and David Alaba's shot from distance brushed the top of the net.
Austria had a golden chance to equalise in injury time when a rebound from Julian Baumgartlinger's volley fell to Janko just three yards out, but the striker missed the target with his header.
Match of the Day host Gary Lineker hailed the visitors' performance:
The result puts Martin O'Neill's men in a commanding position in Group D—at least until Wales take on Serbia—and marks their third successive win.
Ireland will hope to maintain their momentum when they host Wales in March.
As for Austria, they're left with just four points from their four matches having only beaten Georgia so far. Hosting Moldova in their next outing will give them the opportunity to get back on track, but in such a competitive group their poor start could prove costly.
Ireland boss O'Neill showered his side with praise, per the Irish FA's official Twitter feed:
I couldn't be more pleased with the team. We've shown great strength in character in the last few years.
I'm very, very pleased. There's a long way to go but naturally I'm delighted tonight.
I've always believed this group will be tight. Teams will still take points off each other.
According to Delaney, O'Neill was evidently in a jovial mood as he responded to a question on Harry Arter, who made his competitive Ireland debut:
Per Delaney, O'Neill also reserved praise for match-winner McClean: "Had the game been Tuesday, McClean wouldn't have played. He's got a great attitude. He's been splendid, but splendid for long time."