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Ireland end goal drought but come up just short away to Serbia

The Republic of Ireland ended their seven-game goal drought in Belgrade, but a strong Serbian bench made the difference in their opening World Cup qualifier. 

The hosts came away 3-2 winners, courtesy of a second-half brace from substitute Aleksander Mitrovic.

Ireland boss Stephen Kenny started with a three-man defence, and an inexperienced midfield of Josh Cullen and Jayson Molumby.

What resulted was one of the best performances of the Kenny era - at least for an hour - before the strength of the hosts' reserves saw them start Group A with a win.

There were 19-minutes on the clock when Ireland's goal drought came to an end.

Having won back possession in midfield, Alan Browne spread the ball wide to Enda Stevens.

He fed Callum Robinson and the West Brom forward headed for the by-line before standing the ball up to the back post.

Up rose Browne, holding off the attentions of Filip Mladenovic to head back across goal beyond the grasp of Marko Dmitrovic.

Seamus Coleman helped avert real danger when captain Dusan Tadic lofted a perfectly-weighted ball over Dara O'Shea for Filip Duricic. But Coleman did enough to put the Sassuolo attacker off the scent.

But Dragan Stojkovic's side did find an equaliser five-minutes before half time.

Some quick passing saw Tadic flick a ball over the head of O'Shea once again, with Fiorentina sharpshooter Dusan Vlahovic firing low and true past Travers.

Minutes later, O'Shea blocked a Duricic shot after he was played in by Mladenovic down the left-hand flank.

The hosts were smelling blood, with Travers forced into a smart save at his near post by Duricic. From the resultant corner, Tadic attempted to score directly with the Bournemouth custodian colliding with his upright as he dealt with the Ajax forward's cheeky effort.

After a quiet first half, Aaron Connolly found himself more involved after the restart.

He had a shot cleared moments before he was felled by what looked a foul from defender Stefan Mitrovic. However Irish appeals for a penalty fell on deaf ears.

Hearts were in mouths midway through the second half, when Nikola Milenkovic drove a low shot towards Travers' right-hand post, and it went wide with the ever-dangerous Vlahovic unable to add a goal-bound touch.

Serbia were attacking with increased vigour, and finally poked their noses in front with just over 20-minutes remaining.

Quick one-twos through the middle saw substitute Aleksander Mitrovic collect the ball - the Fulham striker spied Travers off his line and stabbed the ball over the head of the despairing keeper, who could have better dealt with the effort.

Mitrovic made it 3-1 with a quarter of an hour remaining. He rose above Ciaran Clark to meet a deft diagonal ball from Tadic.

Ireland's subs were determined to make an impact themselves. James Collins pulled a goal back from close range after Shane Long pounced on a sloppy attempted header from Stefan Mitrovic back towards his keeper.

Despite some nervy moments from the Serbs, they held on for an opening night victory.

For Kenny and co, there is enough to suggest they can approach the rest of this group with a modicum of confidence.

REACTION | Ireland score an actual, no-foolin’ goal in a game of football

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Aaron Connolly Alan Browne Dragan Stojkovic Dusan Tadic Dusan Vlahovic Mark Travers Matt Doherty Qatar 2022 Republic Of Ireland Seamus Coleman Serbia Stephen Kenny World Cup Qualifiers

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