DARYL MURPHY fired a quickfire first-half double for Ireland to set up World Cup blockbuster clash with Wales.
The Nottingham Forest striker gave Martin O’Neill’s side a dream start as he lashed home after just two minutes at the Aviva Stadium.
Murphy, 34 – who had scored just one international goal before kick-off – then promptly doubled their lead with a wonderful looping header to set up a comfortable night for the Irish.
And it was the perfect tonic for O’Neill after a nightmare winless 2017 had threatened to leave Ireland’s hopes of a place in Russia next summer in tatters.
That run started with Seamus Coleman’s horror leg break in the 0-0 draw with Wales in March.
Ireland had gone into that tie top of Group D. This win ensures they now sit one point BEHIND Chris Coleman’s side with just one game left, a winner-takes-all clash in Cardiff.
Serbia’s shock last-minute loss in Austria means the leaders are just one further point away, and another slip against Georgia could yet see Monday’s winner qualify automatically.
But Ireland know they have to do look after their own business and win in Wales regardless.
And it was the same tonight after Wales’ win in Tbilisi in the early kick-off had removed any doubt about what was required. Ireland had no margin for error.
Memories of September when the wheels really came off with the draw in Georgia and loss to Serbia were still fresh.
But there was a vote of confidence for the side that had played well for a long period against the Serbs as he made just three changes – all of them enforced.
In came Murphy, the fit-again Jeff Hendrick and Callum O’Dowda for the injured Jon Walters and banned pair, Robbie Brady and James McClean.
And all three had a big influence on the game though none more so that Nottingham Forest man Murphy.
The big striker broke his international goal duck at the start of this World Cup qualifying campaign and bagged goals number two and three to prolong the campaign now.
On two minutes, he proved a fox in the box as he reacted quickest when Stephen Ward’s long throw bounced off the back of Moldovan skipper Alexandru Epureanu to fire home from close range.
And on 18 minutes, he finished a move that had those in the Aviva Stadium applauding long before the ball nestled in the corner of the net.
Wes Hoolahan swept a lovely pass from the right hand side out to the unmarked Stephen Ward on the left.
The Ireland left-back took a touch and whipped over a high cross to the far post where Murphy rose and deliberately looped a header back across goal to nestle just inside the right-hand post.
Naturally, there were a few moments when Moldova threatened. But they were few and far between and they never felt like moments when things could start going wrong again.
Darren Randolph pulled off a stunning fingertip save from Sergiu Platica’s volley on 26 minutes.
And, that security at the back made it more a question of whether Ireland could add a few more as they totted up the opportunities, and misses, as the troubles in front of goal still remain.
It proved another night when Shane Long was in the horrors as the Southampton man missed three golden chances to seal it. He cannot buy a goal at the moment with his last one coming on February 11.
O’Neill eventually replaced him seven minutes from time with Seanie Maguire who came on for his debut.
The Ireland gaffer will hope that Long is just saving his goal for when it matters on Monday.
The only thing that mattered against Moldova was the result. But Ireland put in a performance that means there is renewed confidence going to Cardiff.