Ireland's hopes of qualifying for back-to-back major tournaments and their first World Cup since 2002 suffered a massive blow at a freezing Lansdowne Road on Tuesday evening as they conceded a late David Alaba goal to draw 2-2 with Group C rivals Austria.
It was billed as a must win game for the home side after picking up a valuable point in Stockholm on Friday evening but late pressure told and Giovanni Trapattoni's side will now have their work cut out to finish in second place behind runaway leaders Germany.
The concession of the two points keeps Ireland fourth in Group C with Austria and Sweden both remaining ahead of the Irish on goal difference and Germany eight points clear after their win over Kazakhstan.
The visitors, coming off the back of Friday’s 6-0 hammering of the Faroe Islands, started the game brightly and were inches from taking a second-minute lead but the lively David Alaba's free-kick went narrowly wide of David Forde's upright with the Ireland goalkeeper scrambling.
Trapattoni was handed a boost before kick-off with the news that Marc Wilson was fit to start but careless play from the Stoke left-back and Ciaran Clark gifted the visitors the opening goal. Zlatan Junuzovic nicked possession from a dithering Clark when the Aston Villa man was the last line of defence before squaring for Stuttgart's Martin Harnik, who calmly slotted past Forde.
However, the Boys in Green, who are growing in confidence according to the Italian tactician, responded positively with Shane Long spearheading the attack in the absence of Robbie Keane. A cross from the West Brom forward appeared to strike the hand of Alaba in the box but appeals were swiftly waved away by the officials before James McClean's dangerous cross caused confusion between defender and goalkeeper.
It didn't take long for the home side to draw level as the tireless Long drew a reckless challenge from West Ham defender Emmanuel Pogatez which gave the Croatian referee no option but to point to the spot. With LA Galaxy striker Keane watching from the stands alongside The Smiths' frontman Morrisey, Jon Walters took the responsibility and drilled it low and hard past Linder.
With a home crowd of over 36,000 roaring on, Ireland forced their opponents back and Long's efforts were so nearly rewarded but he saw his clever back heel from seven yards rebound off the post.
However, Ireland were not to be denied before the break and after the impressive McClean pounced on a loose ball in midfield, the Sunderland winger forced a corner before Glenn Whelan's set piece was headed home by Walters.
The second period began just as the first had ended but this time, McClean's free-kick went the wrong side of the post after Conor Sammon, starting his first competitive international game, drew the foul from Pogatez.
As the game wore on, Ireland began to sit back as the visitors came in search of an equaliser and could have found themselves level but Garics could not direct Harnik's cross on target. It was a sign of things to come but Ireland could have easily sealed the victory with a quarter of the game to go but Linder pulled off a superb point blank save to deny Marc Wilson from close range.
The introduction of Aston Villa'ss Andreas Weimann proved to be a turning point as the Austrians turned the screw and the Boys in Green began to tire. As the match entered injury time, the Austrians continued to lay siege on Forde's goal with the Millwall man stretching to save a Harnik header after an Alaba free-kick.
And the Irish defence eventually cracked under a late onslaught as Alaba's dipping 25-yard effort gave Forde no chance and grabbed Austria a precious point in the race for second.
Ireland face Group C whipping boys the Faroe Islands in June before welcoming Sweden to Dublin in September as the pressure on Trapattoni once again heightens.