IRELAND SUFFERED THE first defeat of the Martin O’Neill era at the Aviva Stadium tonight.
Shane Long put the Boys in Green ahead after just seven minutes but was guilty of two bad misses and Serbia capitalised on a couple of defensive errors to earn a narrow victory.
Ireland nearly made the perfect start inside two minutes when Wes Hoolahan fed James McClean and the Wigan winger whipped a ball to the back post.
Glenn Whelan took the volley on first time and found the bottom corner but Hoolahan, who had followed the shot in, was ruled offside by the referee’s assistant.
Home fans didn’t have to wait long, however, as Long lobbed the ball over goalkeeper Vladimir Stojkovic’s head for the opening goal six minutes later.
Marc Wilson launched the ball downfield where Serbia captain Branislav Ivanovic looked under little pressure but the Chelsea defender left his pass back short and Long finished superbly with his weaker left foot after working hard to hunt the ball down.
The visitors had an attempt on goal on 14 minutes when Milan Bisevac headed a corner into the hands of David Forde, then strung a slick move together which resulted in Filip Dordevic glancing well wide.
They grew in confidence and when Dordevic and Tadic linked up excellently, Benfica teenager Lazar Markovic got a shot off but Forde smothered well.
Ireland then had James McCarthy to thank on 20 minutes as the Everton midfielder made a goal line clearance to prevent Ivanovic scoring after connecting with a corner.
On the half-hour mark, Long should have had his second of the night and 12th in an Ireland shirt. Hoolahan broke through the middle and threaded a through-ball into the feet of the Tipperary striker but his effort at Stojkovic was tame.
Norwich man Hoolahan was a constant creative outlet on the night and his pass to find the run of Coleman caused Bisevac to slice dangerously close to his own net.
McClean shot narrowly wide before Tadic’s curling effort came close to catching Forde off his line during the latter stages of an enjoyable first half.
Shane Long and Wes Hoolahan celebrate. Credit: Inpho
Whatever Serbia manager Ljubinko Drulovic said to his side at half-time it worked as they pulled level three minutes after the restart.
Manchester City’s Aleksandar Kolarov found Tadic and advanced forward before getting it back to complete the one-two. Ireland’s offside trap didn’t work with Coleman keeping players on and McCarthy bundled Kolarov’s shot over the line while trying to prevent a goal.
The Hoolahan-Long combination created yet another super chance on 53 minutes but, unfortunately, resulted in the same outcome with the Hull striker failing to hit the target with an attempted chip.
And Ireland were to be punished for that miss on the hour mark. Coleman lost possession and Dordevic finished from close range.
O’Neill decided to give runs to David Meyler, Anthony Pilkington, Ciaran Clark, Jon Walters and Daryl Murphy in the last half-hour but Ireland didn’t really go chasing the game by pushing numbers on until the final minutes, which ultimately proved too late.
IRELAND: Forde, Coleman, R Keogh, Wilson, Ward (Clark 64′), McGeady (Murphy 71′), McCarthy (Meyler 61′), Whelan (Quinn 80′), McClean, Hoolahan (Pilkington 61′), Long (Walters 72′).
SERBIA: Stojkovic, Rukavina (Gudelj 89′), Bisevac, Ivanovic, Dordevic (Scepovic 87′), Tadic (Ljajic 81′), Kolarov, Matic, Fejsa, Basta (Tosic 58′), Markovic (Sulejmani 76′).