Richard Dunne was the Republic of Ireland's hero once again as his goal edged
them past Armenia and into the Euro 2012 play-offs.
The Aston Villa defender, whose man-of-the-match defensive display in Russia
last month helped to secure a point, ensured all three went Ireland's way in
their final Group B game with a 60th-minute goal which cemented them in second
place on a night when both sides had a man sent off.
Much of what could have gone the Republic's way before the break did so with
the dangerous Armenians having keeper Roman Berezovsky sent off with just 26
The visitors' plight deepened a minute before the break when defender Valeri
Aleksanyan turned Damien Duff's cross into his own net, and when Dunne bundled
home a second on the hour, the game looked to be over.
But Henrikh Mkhitaryan's strike two minutes later ended Ireland's run of eight
clean sheets and sparked concerted fightback, and the final whistle was greeted
with as much relief as joy.
Giovanni Trapattoni, whose own future as manager seems inextricably linked to
the success or otherwise of this campaign, saw his decision to play Simon Cox
rather than Shane Long pay off, although he will have been less pleased with
Kevin Doyle's rather harsh dismissal for a second bookable offence.
Doyle would have missed the first leg of the play-offs as a result of his first
booking anyway, but his manager will hope skipper Robbie Keane is fit enough to
play or the Italian will be without both his first-choice frontmen.
Almost two years ago, the Republic's World Cup dreams were ended by a handball
decision - or rather a non-decision - as France scraped past them with the help
of a large slice of good fortune.
That hurt has festered ever since, and the prospect of another crack at the
lottery of the play-offs is one which brings as much trepidation as excitement
However, beggars cannot be choosers and having pushed Russia all the way,
Trapattoni's men knew heading into tonight's game that a draw would be enough to
book their place in the play-off.
Armenia arrived in Dublin brimming with confidence after three successive
qualifying victories and 11 goals, and there was more than a hint of concern
around the Aviva Stadium, if not inside the home dressing room, before
But having finalised his preparations, the one thing Trapattoni could not
account for was luck. And it was to his delight that when fortune chose to
intervene, it did so in favour of the men in green.
In a tight opening half-hour, the visitors played as billed, passing the ball
confidently with Marcos Pizzelli orchestrating from the middle of the field and
Mkhitaryan and Yura Movsisyan ahead of him looking menacing.
However, it was Doyle who was first to work a goalkeeper, although he did not
overtax Berezovsky with his 12th-minute effort after combining with Cox.
But the game turned with 26 minutes gone when Berezovsky's evening came to a
Doyle reacted first to a ball over the top before attempting to poke a shot
past the advancing keeper, whose save was undoubtedly made outside the penalty
Spanish referee Eduardo Iturralde Gonzalez consulted his assistant before
producing a red card as Berezovsky claimed in vain that he had stopped the ball
with his chest.
Remarkably, replacement Arsen Petrosyan was also penalised for a similar
offence a minute before the break, although having not prevented a goalscoring
opportunity, he was only cautioned.
However, the substitute, who had come on for midfielder Edgar Malakyan in the
wake of the sending-off, had already had to pick the ball out of his net when
Aleksanyan did at the far post what Doyle had failed to do at the near and
turned Duff's low cross home.
Armenia were determined to stick to their principles and continued to play
enterprising football after the break.
But with Ireland starting to make their numerical advantage tell, the long-ball
approach of the opening 45 minutes made way for a more expansive brand of
Doyle was twice denied by good blocks by defensive midfielder Karlen Mkrtchyan
and Keith Andrews smashed a 25-yard piledriver a foot wide of the post.
Dunne looked to have secured victory when he bundled the ball home from close
range after Petrosyan had palmed Aiden McGeady's teasing cross against him.
However, Mkhitaryan's snapshot two minutes later reduced the deficit and, with
a little more composure, Movsisyan might have made the most of substitute Edgar
Manucharyan's fine 66th-minute run across goal.
McGeady should have done better when set up by Duff seconds later, but Shay
Given was relieved to see Manucharyan head inches over from Mkhitaryan's
70th-minute corner with the game far from over.
Doyle's 81st-minute dismissal for elbowing Mkrtchyan brought a disappointing
end to an eventful evening, but the smiles on the final whistle were all Irish.