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Football: DOYLE'S ON THE BOIL TO SAVE STEVE; EURO 2008 CRUNCH NIGHT... Rep of Ireland 1 Slovakia 0.

STEVE STAUNTON praised his players last night after Kevin Doyle's goal eased the pressure on the Republic of Ireland.

The win over Slovakia put the Irish top of Group D alongside Germany and the Czech Republic but more importantly took the heat off Staunton.

Ireland's coach has been a target of the critics for his team's lacklustre displays, particularly a 5-2 loss to Cyprus, a late 2-1 win over San Marino and Saturday's below-par 1-0 victory against Wales.

Visibly relieved Staunton said: "The boys played with a lot of pride and passion tonight. It was important to keep ourselves in the hunt and give ourselves a chance.

"You can't dominate for 90 minutes and they came back in the second half. "I thought the back five were excellent and the 11 of them worked their socks off."

Croke Park came to life in 13 minutes when Doyle scored his second international goal.

Damien Duff curled a free-kick to the near post where the Reading striker rose above Martin Skrtel to plant a downward header inside the left-hand post of Kamil Contofalsky.

Doyle said: "I didn't see it hit the net unfortunately. I was on the ground on my back. But I heard the roar of the crowd, and in Croke Park in front of 70,000 screaming fans, it's something I won't forget."

Ireland almost scored in 78 minutes but Vratislav Gresko cleared Shane Long's header off the line.

Shay Given, winning his 80th cap in the Irish goal, made several fine saves to deny the Slovaks/

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RELIEVED: Ireland boss Steve Staunton
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Mar 29, 2007
Words:264
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