THE Republic of Ireland’s unbeaten record under Martin O’Neill ended at the Aviva Stadium with a 2-1 defeat to a classy Serbian side.
The ‘Boys in Green’ took the lead early on through Shane Long but second half goals from the unfortunate James McCarthy, who put into his own net, and Nantes striker Filip Djordevic sealed the victory for the visitors.
After a strong start from the home side, and with an early Wes Hoolahan goal wrongfully chalked off for offside, it was no surprise when Ireland took the lead seven minutes in.
Long pressurised Milan Bisevac on the Ireland left and after the ball fell to his defensive partner Branislav Ivanovic, the danger looked clear.
That was until the Chelsea man made a hash of his back pass and the ball fell to Long who cutely dinked the ball past an onrushing Vladimir Stojkovic to give the home side the advantage.
Ivanovic almost made amends for his error twenty minutes in. A Dusan Tadic corner found the Serb captain and his header looked destined for the top corner before a goal line intervention from McCarthy kept Ireland in front.
With half an hour on the clock, Long should have doubled his and Ireland’s tally. An astonishingly easy run through the Serb rear guard by Wes Hoolahan saw the Norwich playmaker slide the Tipp man in on goal.
He sized up Stojkovic, but possibly shot prematurely and the keeper stopped it. The save fell back to Long though but he didn’t find a sufficient connection and Stojkovic cleared to safety.
Ireland may well have grabbed a second on the break seven minutes from half-time. Ward won the ball back and after some fine hold up work from Long, McCarthy broke through the middle.
He slid the ball out to James McClean, who cut in from the right and unleashed a strike which skimmed past the helpless Stojkovic’s post.
Just moments later, Serbia were nearly on the receiving end of some good fortune. Tadic attempted a cross to Djordevic, it was over hit for the Nantes front man. Forde had to be alert to tip the wayward cross over the bar, as the hosts deservedly went in ahead at the break.
Serbia started the second half with much more drive than the first and snatched an equaliser just moments after the restart. Kolarov broke down the left and played a one-two with Dusan Basta.
He received the returned ball inside the Irish area and slid the ball past Forde. McCarthy tried to make a last ditch clearance but in the process turned the ball into his own net and the Serbs were level.
Ireland almost responded just minutes later. A ball slalomed through by Hoolahan for Long fell to the Hull striker. He again sized up Stojkovic before attempting an audacious chip which fell agonisingly wide.
Serbia went in front just past the hour mark. Seamus Coleman was dispossessed down the right by Nemanja Matic. He slid the ball down the left for Tadic. He cut it back to sub Zoran Tosic on the penalty spot, whose effort fell to Djordevic and the potent Nantes striker prodded home to put his side in front.
Serbia’s second half dominance continued and they could well have grabbed a third with twenty minutes remaining. Kolarov put the cross in, Djordevic tried the spectacular with an overhead kick. He miscued the attempt but the ball fell to Tosic. He swung a despairing leg at it but Forde got down well to hold onto the tame effort.
The final twenty minutes paled into insignificance with the plenty of changes from both sides. Matic controlled proceedings in midfield, dictating the tempo of the game from a deep role as Martin O’Neill fell to his first defeat as an international manager.
Republic of Ireland: David Forde; Seamus Coleman, Richard Keogh, Marc Wilson, Stephen Ward (Ciaran Clark 64); Glen Whelan (Stephen Quinn 80), James McCarthy (David Myler 61); Aiden McGeady (Daryl Murphy 73), Wes Hoolahan (Anthony Pilkington 61), James McClean; Shane Long (Jon Walters 72).
Subs not used: Darren Randolph (GK),Brian Murphy (GK), Stephen Kelly, John O’Shea, Alex Pearce, Paul Green, Simon Cox, Anthony Stokes.
Booked: Hoolahan (45)
Serbia: Vladimir Stojkovic; Antonio Rukavina (Nemanja Gudelj 89), Branislav Ivanovic, Milan Bisevac, Aleksandar Kolarov; Nemanja Matic, Ljubomir Fejsa; Dusan Tadic (Adem Ljajic 81), Lazar Markovic (Miralem Sulejmani 75), Dusan Basta (Zoran Tosic 59); Filip Djordevic (Stefan Scepovic 87).
Subs not used: Zeljko Brkic (GK), Nanad Tomovic, Radosav Petrovic, Nenad Krsticic.
Booked: Ivanovic (83), Matic (86)
Attendance: 37,243 (official).
Extratime.ie Man of the Match: Filip Djordevic (Serbia)