Republic of Ireland 1 Serbia 2: Martin O'Neill reflects on what could have been as he suffers first defeat since taking over Irish
Shane Long gave O'Neill's side the lead but Serbia's fightback condemned Ireland to their first loss under O'Neill
Thursday 06 March 2014
Martin O'Neill was left to reflect upon what might have been after seeing the Republic of Ireland slip to the first defeat of his reign.
Ireland took an early lead at the Aviva Stadium and had chances to increase their advantage before eventually succumbing after the break as Serbia fought back to snatch victory.
O'Neill, who was taking charge of his third game, said: "We created the chances tonight and that was very, very pleasing.
"I don't mean a half-chance or a quarter-chance that we can look at, they were really great chances in the game.
"Had we taken those chances, I think we would probably have gone on to win the match. I am genuinely pleased with a lot of the game.
"I am disappointed to have lost the match, of course, but in the scheme of things, there was lots of things that I was pleased about and quite a number of things we can try to work on."
Shane Long handed the Republic, who had seen a second-minute Wes Hoolahan strike controversially ruled out for offside, the lead with eight minutes gone when he latched on to defender Branislav Ivanovic's error to beat goalkeeper Vladimir Stojkovic.
But the Hull striker passed up another glorious chance on the half hour, and the Serbs took full advantage as James McCarthy's 48th-minute own goal and Filip Dordevic's close-range finish on the hour won the day.
In the meantime, Long had failed to make the most of another fine opening, once again created by the excellent Hoolahan, as Ireland were made to pay for missed opportunities.
O'Neill said: "Sometimes it happens. They [Serbia] have some very, very decent players and some sort of credit has to go to them.
"They started brightly in the second half, and of course that goal gave them a big lift and they went on to get a second goal.
"It was a rather sloppy one as far as we are concerned, but that said, we had chances, clear-cut chances and overall I was pleased with the fact that we carved those chances out."
O'Neill was able to draw plenty of positives from a game which saw the Republic face a significance step up in class in the shape of the Serbs after November's encounters with Latvia and Poland, with Hoolahan's display perhaps the biggest plus.
But it was opposite number Ljubinko Drulovic who was wearing a smile on the final whistle.
Drulovic said: "I'm very happy and very proud. We still have a long way to go, but we played against a very strong team in the Republic of Ireland and I send very big congratulations to all our players."
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