Group D in UEFA EURO 2020 qualifying had an almost deceptive look around it as the first international break of the season came around with Republic of Ireland on top, leading Denmark and six points clear of their Swiss opponents after three wins and one draw in their opening four matches.
That, however, doesn't tell the entire story. Switzerland came into this one after their UEFA Nations League excursions enforced a sabbatical on their EURO 2020 qualifying campaign over the summer in Portugal. There could be no denying of the facts and figures with Ireland on top but with the Swiss having two games in hand and the fixture in Dublin itself, the table could easily look very different by the end of this cycle.
All of this ensured that match-day five (or three from a Swiss perspective) already looked set to be pivotal in the group. In the end, it was a night of high drama in the capital. A game that meandered along for much of the night burst into life in a final 15minutes that saw Switzerland grab the advantage before Irish eyes were smiling once more as they grabbed another vital point.
Story of the match
Fixture three of Group D away from home was not one that Switzerland would've earmarked for victory and three points when the qualifying draw was made back in December in the very same city but given the way the fixtures had fallen with the Nations League and Switzerland's capitulation at home to Denmark, they certainly wouldn't have gone amiss as the Swiss looked to keep pace at the top.
Ireland's excellent start, albeit with two wins coming against Gibraltar, meant that taking any points at all at home in this match would be another boost and, for the time being, keep Switzerland at arms length in the group. This is probably not the position that Mick McCarthy and Ireland thought they would be in but they've grabbed their title as group leaders with both hands and were determined not to let it go at the Aviva on Thursday night.
If Switzerland needed any reminder that they wouldn't be in for an easy evening, it came within the first thirty seconds as Borussia Dortmund defender Manuel Akanji was forced into a mistake, providing a corner and an increase in crowd volume too. All of this came to nothing in the end, but it was an encouraging start for Ireland all the same.
The visitors quickly settled into the match though, controlling possession without creating any real chances. It was actually the Swiss defence that were tested first with James McClean carrying the ball into the box and only being denied by a great block from VfL Wolfsburg defender Kevin Mbabu.
Despite their control of the ball, Switzerland were quickly finding out why this Irish side had conceded more than one goal only once in their last 15 home matches as the backline of Seamus Coleman, Richard Keogh, Shane Duffy and Enda Stevens provided resistance to any hint of a Swiss attack.
Switzerland were reduced to half chances, with shots from range and set pieces either being saved comfortably or going horribly off target and it was Ireland who grew in confidence as the half came to a close, suddenly looking threatening in attack with more than one terrific cross into the box begging to be attacked and another chance before the whistle that saw David McGoldrick fail to play in Callum Robinson in space when he really should've done better.
The second half began in similar fashion to the first with Switzerland dominating the ball but really lacking the creativity to hurt Ireland and failing to lift the tempo to stretch the opposition defence. Fabian Schar and Denis Zakaria were the only players really looking to lift the side while Breel Embolo had opportunities, including a one-on-one inside the box that came to a swift end as he slipped at the crucial moment and let Ireland off the hook in the process.
As the clock ticked down to seventy-four minutes, with the 0-0 seemingly inevitable, Switzerland finally found that creative spark that they had been lacking. An excellent move and finish that really came from nowhere as Schar came out from defence again and after some quick one-two's and effortless link-up play, an excellent composed finish brought the opening goal for the Newcastle United defender and his country. The Swiss had found the key to the Irish defence in style to silence the majority of the 44,110 crowd packed inside the stadium.
With just 15 minutes left, the nation of Switzerland probably all had flashbacks to Basel in March and the loss of their three-goal lead in the final 10 minutes to Denmark. Their fears that an inability to hold onto a lead would strike again came to fruition with just six minutes of normal time to play.
This Irish side can be labelled a lot of things, mainly that they lack real quality and while that may be true, they can never be accused of lacking spirit or belief. This is a side that never gives up and as they pressed Switzerland, pressure partially invited on by their opponents, hope grew. A rasping shot from Glenn Whelan crashed against Yann Sommer's crossbar and seconds later the goal this country craved came around.
All too simple in the end despite the frantic and frenzied nature of the closing stages of the game, a cross from the left onto the head of McGoldrick to power past Sommer and an eruption of sheer euphoria in the stands. It was just like in Copenhagen in June. Different scorers on the night but the same time on the clock. This was another late show that Ireland are becoming accustomed to broadcasting around Europe.
Switzerland huffed and puffed in the final stages, including five minutes of added time, but were left frustrated at dropping more points in the latter stages of the game and three invaluable points that seemed to be boarding the flight home with them turned quickly into just a solitary one that leaves plenty of work to be done in the rest of their campaign.
Ireland never give up...
It is probably fair to say Ireland are not blessed with one of their best squads in recent years. They lack a real standout player and featured several in their line-up that play below the top tier in English football while their Swiss opposition boasted players from Switzerland, Germany, England, Italy, France and Croatia and six that will feature in the UEFA Champions League this season.
That being said, they make up for a lack of quality with sheer desire. It isn't the first time and probably won't be the last that Ireland have their backs against the wall but find an answer in the closing minutes. They did it in Denmark and they've done it again in Dublin. Their style of football will have it's critics but it is proving effective and has them exactly where they want to be in Group D.
Slipping Swiss and no Shaqiri
Switzerland must be careful if they want to avoid gaining the reputation of a team that fails to hold onto the lead in their games. Thursday night's edition of throwing away an advantage was not quite as spectacular as the one that played out against Denmark earlier in the group but it may prove just as damaging.
They also lacked a creative spark throughout. Xherdan Shaqiri wasn't selected for the squad after stating his desire not to be considered so he could fully concentrate on his club side, Liverpool, but he was sorely missed and Switzerland really could've done with his magic on a night like this.
Questions will also be asked of them defensively. Schar was culpable for the goal and left his partner Akanji isolated with two Irish bodies in the box. Whether it be a weak mentality or just disappointing, individual errors, it is something which Switzerland must address and eradicate before the crunch games later in the group.
Fabian Schar, despite his key role in the Irish goal, played well on the night for Switzerland and scored the opening goal. More than once he advanced forward from defence and caused Ireland problems defensively and generally made himself a nuisance. His mistake takes some shine from his overall performance.
Denis Zakaria was another player that looked lively. His strength, speed and power was a problem in the middle of the park and he, along with Schar, were the only players that really seemed to show intent and a willingness to hurt Ireland.
The entire back four for Ireland deserve credit. They are not superstar names or touted as world class but they all stick to their job and do it well with minimal fuss and no nonsense. They were undone by some slick Swiss play in the second half but put themselves on the line and restricted Switzerland throughout the match.
Maybe the table isn't too deceptive after all. Ireland remain unbeaten and once again they have upset the odds when all hope seemed lost. After their comeback in Copenhagen and their late Dublin delight, some may still claim it is the luck of the Irish, but it is becoming apparent that it is something much more than that and the heavyweight nations in Group D will have to find a way to break Irish spirit if they want to keep their path to EURO 2020 open.