Fans loved James McClean as he took Ireland to the top of World Cup qualifying group

Ireland's 1-0 win against their Austrian hosts has taken them to the top of Group D in the long road to the 2018 World Cup.

But after a night of near-misses at the Ernst Happel Stadium, it was sole goal-scorer James McClean who everyone was talking about.

James McClean launches his shot
McClean launches his shot underneath Ramazan Ozcan, taking Ireland to the top of Group D (Ronald Zak AP/PA)

The West Bromwich Albion player scored in the second half when he launched a magnificent ball through the legs of keeper Ramazan Ozcan, just two minutes after the break - and it didn't take long for fans to show their appreciation.

The winger, who had recovered from a back injury just in time to make the squad, was named man of the match as Ireland took pole position in Group D with 10 points - three above nearest rivals, Serbia.

Fans hoping for a more domineering victory were left on the edge of their seats as another goal was disallowed just moments later, after Jonathan Walters' effort from a Robbie Brady free kick was given offside.

It wasn't the only near-thing of the evening however: Striker Marc Janko might have troubled keeper Darren Randolph more than he did with a fifth-minute shot and a header 10 minutes later, and he blazed high and wide after latching on to a weak Shane Duffy clearance with 26 minutes gone.

The Republic too created a series of half-chances with McClean seeing a 13th-minute effort deflected just over the angle of bar and post and Walters glancing a 31st-minute header just wide after Duffy had tumbled inside the penalty as he tried to meet a corner with Russian referee Sergei Karasev unmoved.

Austria's Marcel Sabitzer and Ireland's Ciaran Clark challenge for the ball
Austria's Marcel Sabitzer and Ireland's Ciaran Clark challenge for the ball (AP Photo/Ronald Zak)

The nail-biting match kept its intensity right up to the final whistle, and there was a palpable sense of relief when Randolph safely fielded defender Aleksandar Dragovic's deflected 90th-minute strike.

As their first victory over Austria since 1963, it's safe to say McClean has well-and-truly launched Ireland into their most promising World Cup qualifying campaign for many years.

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