World Cup 2018 qualifying: Martin O'Neill praises Republic of Ireland comeback

Daryl Murphy celebrates after equalising in Belgrade
Daryl Murphy powered in a header equaliser 10 minutes from time

The Republic of Ireland "fought back magnificently" to snatch a 2-2 draw in their opening World Cup qualifier in Serbia, said manager Martin O'Neill.

Jeff Hendrick's early goal put the Republic ahead but Serbia led through Filip Kostic and Dusan Tadic before Daryl Murphy's late equaliser.

O'Neill said his players "totally deserved" a point in Belgrade.

"Expecting to control a match for 90 minutes away from home against Serbia? That's lunacy," he said.

The Republic went in front on three minutes as Hendrick's low shot deflected in off Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic.

The home side's dominance eventually yielded Kostic's equaliser on 62 minutes before Tadic netted a controversial penalty.

The Republic struggled to retain possession but a late revival was rewarded by Murphy's first international goal 10 minutes from time.

The draw left O'Neill's men third in their qualifying group after the opening round of fixtures, behind Wales and Austria.

The Republic face the bottom two teams in their next two matches - hosting Georgia on 6 October, three days before visiting Moldova.

O'Neill said: "I thought we thwarted them pretty well in the first half. You would expect them to have a lot of possession being the home team.

"You knew that they were going to come into the game in the second half and they did so.

"It is very, very difficult. You are playing away from home against Serbia. These boys play in big, big leagues."

O'Neill said his players described Serbia's penalty as "a little bit soft" and added he thought referee Viktor Kassai was "not sure about his game at all".

"But we roared back after we conceded the penalty," he said. "We had a goal disallowed and Shane Long had a great chance to equalise and then Murphy comes up with a great, great goal."

The 33-year-old's headed goal came in his 24th appearance for the Republic, eight days after he joined Newcastle United from Ipswich Town.

"It's been a big boost for him at club level getting a glorious move to Newcastle," said O'Neill.

"He's fit, regardless of his age, and he steamed into it and that was a great goal for us and a great goal for him too."