Ireland’s 1-0 win over Wales on Monday night won’t be remembered as one of the most aesthetic international clashes of all time. But what it lacked in quality, the all-or-nothing World Cup qualifier certainly made up for in intensity and excitement, both sides needing a win to bag a place in the playoffs.
It was Martin O’Neill’s boys who got themselves over the line in a masterful defensive display that hinged on commitment in defence and a clinical moment at the other end – Jeff Hendrick capitalising on confusion at the back to slot in James McClean for a powerful finish.
And Middlesbrough’s summer signing Cyrus Christie played a huge part in that. Although his impressive Championship form has mostly rested on his impact going forward, averaging the fourth-most successful dribbles per match of any player in the division, it was his defensive efforts that stood out most at Cardiff City Stadium.
The right-back made the most tackles and the joint-most interceptions of any Ireland player, keeping a firm leash on one of Wales’ more notable creative threats in Tom Lawrence, who has started the season with two assists in seven appearances.
That’s not to say Christie didn’t make an impact on the ball; he recorded the second-most touches of any Ireland player and produced the third-most passes, although his passing accuracy was just 65%.
Having played in every minute of Middlesbrough’s Championship campaign thus far, the 25-year-old – who Transfermarkt value at £1.8million – is already looking like a shrewd signing from Garry Monk and a key part of Boro’s promotion push this season.