Republic of Ireland 1-0 Andorra
Noel King’s team treated the bumper crowd to an entertaining performance as they secured three crucial points in their bid to qualify from Group 2 and secure a place in the 2017 finals in Poland.
Ireland dominated possession from the early stages and kept visiting goalkeeper Victor Silverio Pinto busy as they regularly took aim with shots from distance after spells of positive play.
The first player to try his luck was midfielder Jack Byrne and even though his shot flew wide it was a sign of things to come. Next up was striker Conor Wilkinson who tested the alertness of Pinto.
King’s side played with a fluency in their passing and stretched their opponents with clever runs off the ball. Yet, it was their knack of shooting from distance that allowed them to really threaten.
It was through that approach that Connolly brought the best out of Pinto on 19 minutes with a superb shot from 25 yards out. But the Ipswich Town winger profited from his very next effort.
A clever turn and shot from Wilkinson on 31 minutes saw the Bolton Wanderers forward force Pinto into a save before Waterford native Kenny McEvoy reacted quickest to set up Connolly to fire in.
Andorra struggled to break through Ireland’s backline with captain Marc Ferre Nazzaro going closest with a well-drilled shot. Up the other end, Byrne’s shot was pushed away by Pinto.
The visitors did have the ball in the back of the net on 81 minutes from Aaron Sanchez Alburquerque’s header, but referee Tvetan Krastev ruled it out for offside to ensure Danny Rogers maintained his clean sheet.
Ireland had two late chances to double their lead, but Pinto - who was superb throughout - shot off his line to deny both Callum O'Dowda and substitute Sean Maguire on two different efforts.
One goal proved to be enough for Ireland and with senior team manager Martin O’Neill looking on, there was plenty to be upbeat about. They will now aim to build on this victory going forward.
The two teams will meet again on September 8 when King’s side travel to Andorra for the second game in the group before their back-to-back clashes with Lithuania and Italy in October.
Republic of Ireland: Rogers; Connors, Lenihan, Hoban, Kavanagh; Rea, Byrne; Connolly (Maguire 90+2), McEvoy (Browne 86), O’Dowda; Wilkinson (Goodwin 72).
Andorra: Pinto; Gomez (Alvarez 54), Gonzalez-Adrio, Ruiz, Gresa (Ortega 76); Rodrigues, Nazzaro, Roig, Munoz (Noguera 68); Pena; Alburquerque.
Referee: Tvetan Krastev (Bulgaria).