Neil Taylor was sent off for a horror tackle on Seamus Coleman
Honours ended even in a result that suited the Republic of Ireland more than Wales. But the talking point from this qualifier in Dublin was the serious injury to Coleman which saw Neil Taylor red carded.
A woeful first half, where neither team registered a shot on target, was followed by a second in which Italian referee Nicola Rizzoli dismissed Taylor for his lunge on Coleman. The Aston Villa man’s late and high tackle saw the Irish skipper receive oxygen as he was taken off on a stretcher, with Martin O’Neill later confirming the Everton defender had suffered a serious leg injury.
In Coleman’s absence, Ireland failed to make the most of their man advantage despite dominating the final 15 minutes at the Aviva Stadium.
The result means Serbia, who were 3-1 winners over Georgia, moved to the top of Group D with Ireland left to rue missing out on three points. Gareth Bale’s yellow card was another blow for Wales as he, like Taylor, will now miss the vital trip to Serbia in June through suspension.
O’Neill said: “It’s a bad break. Seamus is a fantastic player and character and it’s a major blow for the lad and for his club and country. It wasn’t the greatest challenge in the world. He’s gone to hospital.
“I saw Coleman’s reaction immediately. He was holding his leg up, it didn’t look good. He’s having the season of a lifetime and he’s a big player for us. It’s a big, big loss.”
Gareth Bale couldn't find a winner for Wales
Ireland captain John O’Shea said: “We have our fingers crossed for Seamus, but we know the type of boy he is and he will come back bigger and stronger.
“When you have the extra man you want to take advantage, but we couldn’t. The red card allowed Wales to sit back, and we didn’t quite have enough clear-cut chances to take the three points.”
O’Neill’s side were dealt a blow with Everton midfielder James McCarthy, who had been a doubt for the game all week with a hamstring problem, forced to pull out before kick-off.
Hull’s David Meyler came in at short notice, while Wales named the same side which downed Belgium 3-1 at Euro 2016 last summer with Bale and Aaron Ramsey supporting striker Hal Robson-Kanu.
A patriotic home crowd, who paid tribute to Derry City captain Ryan McBride who passed away last week, were keen to help the Republic keep their unbeaten campaign run going. But it was Wales, with Joe Allen prompting them from midfield, who started a scrappy opening the better.
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Both Robson-Kanu and Republic striker Shane Long were isolated figures up front, with neither goalkeeper worked in the opening 20 minutes. A superb Bale pass from deep just eluded Wales wing back Taylor, while Ramsey was also treated for a dead leg.
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Ireland, meanwhile, struggled to retain possession with every man in green apart from Long behind the ball. A Glenn Whelan pass just escaped the Southampton man, but the fact that was their best chance of a turgid first period summed up the Republic’s limited display.
Wales had the better of the possession, but Bale looked rusty as he shot wide from distance.
Whelan, meanwhile, was lucky to avoid a booking for an elbow on Stoke team-mate Allen just before the interval. Coleman introduced Sam Vokes for Robson-Kanu for the second half, and immediately Bale had a free-kick saved by Darren Randolph. Wales’ star man also missed with another effort, while McClean put two Irish free-kicks into the wall.
It was a physical encounter, Bale then suffered a costly booking for sliding into O’Shea before Taylor was rightfully dismissed for wiping out Coleman.
Despite being stirred on by a full house at the Aviva, O’Neill’s men couldn’t find a goal as McClean’s deflected shot flew inches wide. Bale threatened to win it with a mazy run and shot that went the wrong side of the post but it was Rizzoli’s whistle which dominated the final stages of the contest.
Wales boss Chris Coleman said: “We are told it’s not too good which we are sorry for. Neil is not that type of player, it’s a tough one for Seamus. Neil is despondent and quiet in the dressing room.
“We controlled the game and looked the team who looked like scoring but the red card changed everything. I’m proud of my player who had to dig in. We went from controlling the hame to a defensive block and the focus was fantastic.”