Stephen Kenny is still awaiting his first win as Republic of Ireland manager after his 10-man coronavirus-hit side was held to a 0-0 Nations League draw by Wales in Dublin.
Ireland, who lost five more players on the eve of Sunday’s game as a result of Covid-19 protocols after one unnamed member of the squad had tested positive, once again had chances to win a scruffy encounter at the Aviva Stadium.
However, striker Shane Long and substitute Daryl Horgan passing up the best of them as the spoils were shared.
Kenny’s men might well have lost the game as well, though, with referee Tasos Sidiropoulos taking a lenient view of goalkeeper Darren Randolph’s first-half challenge on Ethan Ampadu before sending off James McClean for a second bookable offence.
The draw ended Wales’ perfect start to the League B Group 4 campaign ahead of Wednesday’s trip to Bulgaria, while the Republic, who had to play £15million Tottenham full-back Matt Doherty in central defence for more than an hour, have taken just two points from the first nine available as they head for Finland.
Ireland were without a host of players for the match with quartet John Egan, Callum Robinson, Callum O’Dowda and Alan Browne being stood down on Sunday as close contacts and Derrick Williams was also missing from the 18 names on the teamsheet.
Kenny was already without Aaron Connolly and Adam Idah for similar reasons and Seamus Coleman, Darragh Lenihan, Harry Arter, James McCarthy and David McGoldrick through injury,
Having seen his preparations thrown into disarray once again by coronavirus protocols after Thursday night’s devastating Euro 2020 play-off exit in Slovakia, Kenny was left to piece together a team from what he had left and tellingly, was only able to name seven substitutes, two of them goalkeepers.
A team featuring four changes – all of them enforced – to the XI which started in Bratislava felt its way into the game with both sides adopting a concerted press when out of possession.
The Welsh midfield quartet was working hard to smother Ireland with Conor Hourihane dropping ever deeper in an attempt to find the space to pick out a decisive pass.
Robbie Brady was unable to make much of his 17th-minute opening after Jeff Hendrick had combined with full-backs Doherty and Enda Stevens, and he then delivered successive corners on to Shane Duffy’s head as Ireland attempted to exploit Wales’ perceived aerial weakness.
But as the home side pushed forward, they were vulnerable on the counter with Aaron Ramsey and Daniel James looking to cash in on the space in behind, and their woes increased when central defender Kevin Long had to leave the pitch with a badly swollen eye after being caught by Kieffer Moore’s elbow.
Wales almost took advantage within two minutes when Harry Wilson exchanged passes with Ramsey and forced Randolph into a diving save, and the keeper was fortunate not to concede a penalty when he bundled Ampadu over in the box after dropping a high ball.
Brady might have done better when he shot just wide after latching on to a loose pass 12 minutes before the break and substitute Cyrus Christie went even closer with two minutes of the half remaining, but the deadlock was unbroken when the whistle sounded.
In an untidy start to the second half, both sides were repeatedly careless on the ball, although it was the visitors with Ramsey and James prominent who looked the more likely to put together a cohesive move.
However, Shane Long should have put Ireland in front within 10 minutes of the restart when Stevens picked him out unmarked, but he headed wastefully over with just keeper Wayne Hennessey to beat.
Horgan might also have done better with 12 minutes remaining when he fired over after his initial header from McClean’s cross had been blocked.
But the home side’s hopes suffered a fresh blow with seven minutes remaining when Stoke winger McClean, who had already been cautioned, was dismissed for a late challenge on Ampadu.