Shane Long passed up an opportunity to prove he could succeed Robbie Keane as Serbia came from behind for a 2-1 win and condemned Republic of Ireland manager Martin O’Neill to a first defeat.
The 27-year-old Hull striker marked his 44th senior international cap with his 11th goal for Ireland in record goalscorer Keane’s absence, but should really have been leaving the Aviva Stadium with the match ball.
side a deserved lead, but then passed up two glorious opportunities to add to his tally with playmaker Wes Hoolahan terrorizing the visitors’ defense.
Long twice shot straight at keeper Vladimir Stojkovic on the half-hour and then fired harmlessly wide eight minutes after the restart to let Serbia off the hook, and they were to take full advantage.
Ljubinko Drulovic’s men had leveled three minutes into the second half when Ireland midfielder James McCarthy bundled the ball into his own net with his defense in tatters.
But there was worse to come for the home side on the hour when striker Filip Dordevic found himself in the right place at the right time to win it from close range.
If Ireland boss Martin O’Neill wasn’t fully aware of the stiff task that lies ahead, then last night’s underwhelming 2-1 reversal to a tolerable Serbian side was a harrowing indication of the drudgery that awaits but the 62-year-old insisted there were plenty of positives to be taken from his first defeat in charge.
O’Neill, however, was focusing on the promising first-half performance, during which the hosts outmuscled their better-ranked opponents.
‘I was pleased with a lot of aspects of the game. We started off very, very brightly and we had a goal disallowed. Then we got a really good goal,’ O’Neill said. ‘We could have made it 2-0 and at this level, that would have been big for us.’
‘We probably started a little hesitantly in the second half but we had good moments in the game against the very decent opposition. There were lots that I was very pleased with.
‘We had done very well up until half-time. We were hesitant in the second half which allowed them into the game. I thought we lost our way for a little bit. That said, during the period, we could have been 2-0 up.’
The hosts were unable to maintain the same level of performance after the break as Ljubinko Drulovic leveled three minutes into the second period. Aleksandar Kolarov’s center was turned into his own net by James McCarthy before striker Filip Dordevic took advantage of more sloppy Irish defending on the hour mark.
‘We’re disappointed to lose the game and we made a number of substitutes. But overall, lots to be genuinely happy about,’ O’Neill added.
Hull City striker Long spurned several gilt-edged opportunities either side of the interval as he endured a mixed evening and his manager admitted he was surprised to see the in-form poacher fail to find the net.
‘It was a terrific ball by Wes. With his confidence being high, I thought he might have taken that another yard or two and put it in. I think he’s frustrated that he could easily have scored a hat-trick.’