Polster leaves Ireland wanting

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The Independent Online

reports from Lansdowne Road

Republic of Ireland 1 Austria 3

Eight years after they were last beaten in a European qualifier and eight days after their embarrassment in Eschen, the Republic of Ireland came badly unstuck here yesterday, when Austria came from behind to secure a convincing win.

Jack Charlton, the Republic manager, made only two changes to his starting line-up, with Tommy Coyne and Ray Houghton returning for John Aldridge and Jason McAteer. However, just as it had been a week before, it was the centre of midfield which was to prove the main problem for the Irish team.

From early on in the proceedings, it was the home side who enjoyed the better of the game, and with the Austrian man-markers, Anton Pfeffer and Christian Furstaller, being given constant difficulties by Coyne and Niall Quinn, it took some solid work by the goalkeeper, Michael Konsel, to prevent an early Irish breakthrough.

Quinn, in particular, might have done better in the ninth and 37th minutes, when he did well to get on to low balls from Coyne, only to fail with his final attempt. But aside from a scrambled clearance by Ronnie Whelan after Christian Prosenik had caught Alan Kelly off his line, there were several Irish players who squandered chances.

After the first half, however, Ireland's central midfield combination of Whelan and John Sheridan began to lose ground to Prosenik and Dietmar Kuhbauer, and as the experienced striker, Anton Polster, got the measure of the Irish defence, the visitors began to threaten Kelly's goal with disturbing regularity.

But it was the home side who struck first, with Quinn's replacement, Tony Cascarino, having his shot partially blocked and Houghton stealing in for the tap in after 68 minutes. But the Dublin crowd's joy was to be brief as Polster drew his side level three minutes later with a sweetly placed 30-yard free-kick.

The newly arrived substitute, Andreas Ogris, beat Kelly low to his left for Austria's second in the 75th minute, and five minutes later, as the visitors took control of the midfield, Polster rounded off a fine afternoon with a close-range header from Prosenik's free-kick.

Charlton admitted that he had had "a feeling something like this might happen", but it appears his refusal to include an attacking central midfielder such as McAteer or Alan McLoughlin has left the Irish needing to win in Vienna or Lisbon, after securing just one of what should have been six late-season points.

REPUBLIC OF IRELAND (4-4-2): A Kelly (Sheffield Utd); G Kelly (Leeds Utd), Babb (Liverpool), McGrath (Aston Villa), Irwin (Man Utd); Houghton (Crystal Palace), Whelan (Southend Utd), Sheridan (Sheffield Wednesday), Staunton (Aston Villa); Coyne (Motherwell), Quinn (Manchester City). Substitutes: Cascarino (Marseille) for Quinn, 57; Kenna (Blackburn) for Staunton, h- t).

AUSTRIA (5-3-2): Konsel (Rapid Vienna); Schottel (Rapid Vienna), Furstaller (Casino Salzburg), Kogler (Admira-Wacker), Marasek (Rapid Vienna), Pfeffer (FK Austria); Ramusch (Linzer Athletic), Kuhbauer (Rapid Vienna), Prosenik (FK Austria); Pfeifenberger (Casino Salzburg), Polster (Cologne). Substitutes: Ogris (FK Austria) for Ramusch, 73; Hutter (Salzburg) for Pfeifenberger, 83.

Referee: M Merk (Germany).