Dunne helps Republic to draw

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Richard Dunne kept the Republic of Ireland on course for the World Cup finals as his side scrapped their way to a hard-fought 1-1 draw in Bulgaria.

The Manchester City defender, who also scored in the corresponding game at Croke Park in March, headed the visitors in front 24 minutes into a pulsating encounter in Sofia.

But once midfielder Dimitar Telkiyski had levelled five minutes later, the Irish were forced to defend for dear life to retain their five-point lead over the Bulgarians in Group Eight.

Ireland started well and there was nothing they could do to prevent the visitors from taking the lead with 24 minutes gone after Stephen Hunt had been tripped by Stanislav Angelov wide on the left.

The winger dusted himself down before curling in a free-kick that Dunne met unopposed and gleefully headed into the net.

Martin Petrov might have levelled within a minute but lifted his shot from a tight angle over Shay Given's crossbar, but the battle had been joined and Ireland were forced to weather a storm from then until the break.

The Bulgarians levelled within five minutes of Dunne's opener when Telkiyski capitalised on a misunderstanding between Kevin Kilbane and Sean St Ledger to run on to Ilian Tomasic's long ball and beat the advancing Given comfortably.

The Republic had a let-off with 57 minutes gone when Angelov picked out Berbatov in space at the far post with 57 minutes gone, only for the striker to miscontrol and allow Given to step in.

Substitute Aiden McGeady almost snatched victory for the visitors at the death with a right-foot shot that whistled inches wide.

Giovanni Trapattoni's men, who would have gone to the top of the group ahead of World champions Italy with a win, remain in pole position to claim at least second spot, with Bulgaria, who have played a game fewer, still to go to Cyprus and Italy.

Copyright (c) PA Sport 2009, All Rights Reserved.

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Martin Petrov
Sean St Ledger
Manchester City
Stephen Hunt
Premier League
Kevin Kilbane
Shay Given
Richard Dunne
Stephen Hunt

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