Football: Houghton suffers as Republic falter

Romania 1 Republic of Ireland 0
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Roy Keane had a penalty brilliantly saved by Bogdan Stelea as Republic went down to a wonderful goal here yesterday to the runaway leaders of World Cup Group Eight.

However, controversy raged over whether Stelea should have been shown a red card instead of just a yellow by the Dutch referee, Mario van der Ende, after bringing down Ray Houghton two minutes after half-time.

Later there was further unsavoury drama when Houghton was left in agony on the Steaua stadium pitch after being hit on the head by a missile thrown from the crowd. The 35-year-old Crystal Palace midfielder, making his international comeback with a superb performance in midfield, took nearly two minutes to recover - and Romania are now sure to face heavy punishment from Fifa, world football's governing body, once the referee reports the incident.

Houghton, eventually, was able to play on and almost set up a late equaliser for Keane, whose well-struck shot was again saved by Stelea, but that in itself summed up the one failing of Ireland's otherwise admirable performance.

Their coach, Mick McCarthy, clearly under pressure all week in the aftermath of the 3-2 defeat in Macedonia last month, answered his critics by making six changes and fielding a new-look formation which worked well apart from the one decisive moment in the 32nd minute. The teenage Leeds centre- back Ian Harte headed clear, but the ball landed at the feet of Romania's attacking midfielder Adrian Ilie, who struck an unstoppable 20-yard shot that flew past the Irish goalkeeper, Alan Kelly, into the top corner. Although the Irish played well, with the Watford striker David Connolly looking dangerous, they were unable to respond.

ROMANIA: Stelea (Steaua Bucharest); Petrescu (Chelsea), Prodan (Atletico Madrid), Dobos (AEK Athens), Filipescu (Galatasaray), Gheorghe Popescu (Barcelona), Munteanu (FC Cologne), Ilie (Galatasaray), Moldovan (Grasshopper Zurich), Hagi (Galatasaray), Selymes (Anderlecht). Substitutes: Rotariu (Steaua Bucharest) for Gheorghe Popescu, 72; Gabriel Popescu (Universitatea Craiova) for Ilie, 82; Craioveanu (Real Sociedad) for Hagi, 88.

REPUBLIC OF IRELAND: A Kelly (Sheffield Utd); Irwin (Manchester Utd), Staunton (Aston Villa), Cunningham (Wimbledon), Harte (Leeds), Keane (Manchester Utd), Townsend (Aston Villa), Houghton (Crystal Palace), Kennedy (Liverpool), G Kelly (Leeds), Connolly (Watford). Substitutes: Kenna (Blackburn) for Irwin, h-t; Cascarino (Nancy) for Connolly, 75; Goodman (Wimbledon) for Harte, 76.

Referee: M Van der Ende (Netherlands).