Shane Long came off the bench to rescue the Republic of Ireland’s Euro 2016 qualification campaign with a priceless last-gasp equaliser against Poland in Dublin.
The visitors – and Group D leaders – looked to be heading for victory courtesy of midfielder Slawomir Peszko’s first-half strike. But Long, an 83rd-minute replacement for midfielder Glenn Whelan, stabbed home from close range in the first minute of stoppage time to snatch a point and keep Ireland’s hopes of making it to France alive.
Robbie Keane and Shay Given were recalled to the Republic’s starting line-up as Martin O’Neill made seven changes to the side beaten 1-0 by Scotland in November.
In a scrappy opening to the game, neither side was able to exercise any real control with the contest being largely fought out in the middle of the pitch. But as the game wore on, it was the visitors who started to make the greater impression with Maciej Rybus linking well with captain Robert Lewandowski from the left.
Poland got their noses in front with their first effort on target after 26 minutes. Robbie Brady dallied on the ball and Peszko pounced to dispossess him before surging past covering defender Marc Wilson and smashing an unstoppable left-foot shot across Given and inside the far post.
The Republic were struggling to make an impact with Wes Hoolahan the only man causing any problems for the Polish defence, and even then too far away from goal to trouble Lukasz Fabianski.
Poland wasted an opportunity when Rybus curled a left-foot free-kick tamely wide, but the momentum remained very much with them.
Ireland right-back Seamus Coleman found himself in space in an advanced position with seven minutes of the half remaining, but his control under pressure let him down.
Fabianski had to claim Hoolahan’s deflected 42nd-minute cross after Aidan McGeady had picked him out following a determined crossfield run, and the Everton winger was unfortunate to see a delicate chipped effort sail just wide with the keeper beaten.
O’Neill resisted the temptation to change personnel at the break, although he did shuffle the pack with Hoolahan lining up on the left and Jon Walters partnering Keane in attack.
The move gave his team a better shape and his captain greater support, although it was medical assistance the 34-year-old needed after being felled by Kamil Glik’s 50th-minute challenge, for which the defender was cautioned.
The pressure was starting to tell and Lukasz Szukala joined fellow central defender Glik in referee Jonas Eriksson’s notebook for an untidy challenge on Walters. However, Brady’s free-kick sailed over Fabianski’s crossbar.
The Polish goalkeeper was forced into his first save after 64 minutes when Wilson powered a header from Brady’s corner towards goal, but straight at the Swansea man.
Keane came desperately close to levelling with 18 minutes left, meeting substitute James McClean’s searching cross with a firm downward header only to see the ball rebound off a post.
The Republic were throwing everything they had at the Poles, who were defending tenaciously, but ever more desperately as they clung on to the slimmest of advantages.
O’Neill sacrificed holding midfielder Whelan to send on striker Long as time ran down, and the move paid dividends in injury time when Hoolahan’s header fell for him to stab a shot past Fabianski to snatch a point.Reuse content