The Republic of Ireland maintained their unbeaten start to Euro 2020 qualifying with a laboured 2-0 win over Gibraltar at the Aviva Stadium on Monday.
Mick McCarthy kicked off his second stint in charge of Ireland with a slender 1-0 win in the reverse fixture at the end of March but hopes of a significantly more routine victory on home turf failed to materialise.
They were indebted to an own goal from Joseph Chipolina shortly before the half-hour mark, with Robbie Brady adding injury-time gloss to the scoreline.
The result makes it three wins from four in Group D, but McCarthy knows his side will have to improve dramatically if they are to progress at the expense of Denmark or Switzerland.
Ireland started sluggishly and were reduced to efforts from distance before Chipolina’s unfortunate intervention after 29 minutes handed the hosts the lead.
David McGoldrick scuffed Seamus Coleman’s low cross towards goal, with the Gibraltar defender inadvertently deflecting the ball past a helpless Kyle Goldwin.
The lively Callum Robinson came close to adding a second on the stroke of half-time but his whipped effort from outside the penalty are arched just wide of Goldwin’s right-hand post.
Another low ball from Coleman caused chaos in the Gibraltar box after 58 minutes but McGoldrick was unable to steer his effort past Goldwin.
Gibraltar’s goalkeeper then kept out Scott Hogan’s fierce drive from a tight angle before McGoldrick whipped a right-footed effort against the post from 18 yards 20 minutes from time.
The hosts added a scarcely deserved second in stoppage time, Brady stealing in at the back post to head in James McClean’s cross as McCarthy’s side maintained their unbeaten run in extremely underwhelming fashion.
What does it mean? Unbeaten Ireland lead the way
Ireland have taken 10 points from their first four outings to sit in top spot, though there is still a long way to go in the qualification battle.
Denmark, who have a game in hand, are five points behind in second place, while beaten Nations League semi-finalists Switzerland are in third after picking up four points from two games.
Coleman a cut above
The Ireland captain was a constant menace down Gibraltar’s left, turning Jayce Mascarenhas-Olivero inside out. McCarthy must wish he had more players of the Everton full-back’s undoubted class at his disposal.
Hogan toils in attack
Making his first competitive start for Ireland, Hogan failed to take his opportunity. The Aston Villa forward struggled to impose himself on the game and was hauled off midway through the second period for Sean Maguire.
Ireland’s qualification bid continues in September when Switzerland visit Dublin, while Gibraltar face quick-fire Group D games against Denmark and the Swiss in the same month.