It wasn't the greatest night of football Mick McCarthy has overseen as Republic of Ireland manager but it was a job done by any means necessary as Gibraltar were seen off by a solitary Jeff Hendrick goal.
The midfielder tucked home David McGoldrick’s pass early in the second half as the Boys in Green struggled to create against a dogged and, occasionally adventurous, Gibraltar side.
Hendrick scored his first international goal two years ago in Ireland’s first World Cup qualifier in Serbia, but McCarthy won’t be looking for omens from that campaign.
Rather, he’ll look to the successful qualifying campaigns for Euro 2012 and Euro 2016, when Ireland laboured to unconvincing away victories over Armenia and Georgia respectively.
Late winners from Keith Fahey and Aiden McGeady were greeted with relief rather than jubilation then, but both results proved vital to Giovanni Trapattoni and Martin O’Neill’s sides making the finals.
There were few other signs of optimism for the coach as his injury-affected side dominated possession but created few clear-cut chances at Victoria Stadium.
That was partly down to the weather, as a strong gale made even short passes somewhat unpredictable on the artificial surface.
At one point, McGoldrick aimed to exploit the space created when full-back John Sergeant was sucked in and sent a raking pass towards James McClean out wide.
The ball initially looked perfectly-weight, but it caught a heavy gust of wind and sailed into the grateful arms of Kyle Goldwin.
There was less to explain the general lack of cohesion and precision in the Irish game, with numerous balls lost from bouncing up onto shins or miscontrolled with poor touches.
The conundrum of whether to accommodate captain Seamus Coleman or in-form Matt Doherty was solved by playing both, with the Wolves man operating on the wing in a 4-4-2 in front of Coleman.
The pair showed some nice touches early on, and Doherty looked particularly hungry for work in the first half, but too often they made the same runs and the Swords man was hooked after an hour.
Indeed, it was the home side who started the brighter with Uruguayan manager Julio César Ribas setting them out to pressurise Ireland with a high-intensity game.
Playmaker Liam Walker was the fulcrum of Gibraltar’s attack and he earned an early corner for a shot that hit Shane Duffy after his fanciful appeals for handball were waved away.
Walker had another opportunity to shoot moments later as Hendrick conceded a free kick 25 yards out, but the ball was picked up by the wind and sailed over the bar.
Ireland worked their way into the game and McGoldrick volleyed over following Doherty’s knock-down, before Keogh toe-poked a shot at Goldwin as Hendrick’s cross wasn’t dealt with.
Conor Hourihane’s set-piece delivery was one of few bright spots for Ireland and one low delivery caught Duffy flat-footed before Seani Maguire nodded another wide with Coleman lurking.
The best chance of the half came courtesy of a misdirected Gibraltar header as captain Roy Chipolina deflected the ball towards his own goal, but Godwin managed to pull off a stunning reaction save.
Hourihane’s accuracy caused more problems for Gibraltar before the break but, again, McClean wasn’t able to connect and the home side deservedly went into half time on level terms.
And they should have been ahead within a minute of the restart when Roy Chipolina met Walker’s corner with a bullet header that looked destined for the net only for a world class save from Darren Randolph to twart the home team.
The Bray man has come under some scrutiny for recent performances, particularly for Aston Villa’s third in a 3-0 win last week, but he showed great reflexes and a strong hand to keep the scores level.
It was a scare Ireland shouldn’t have needed but they reacted in a positive manner and forced the opening goal three minutes later.
Randolph picked out McClean with a pin-point pass from deep and he laid it off to Hourihane, who played a clever ball down the line for McGoldrick.
The Sheffield United striker outmuscled Roy Chipolino easily and surged to the endline, where he pulled the ball back for Hendrick, who responded with a composed left-footed finish.
Gibraltar continued to offer the occasional threat on the break, and Hourihane’s poor pass nearly had disastrous consequences, but Lee Casciaro couldn’t guide his curling shot into the corner.
A strong run forward from Anthony Hernandez yielded another chance for Walker but Richard Keogh took the sting out of it with a strong block.
The former Portsmouth and Notts County midfielder tried his luck from range once more but, despite the windy conditions, Randolph watched it all the way.
McCarthy introduced Harry Arter for the final 20 minutes in place of Maguire to provide more solidity in midfield.
That was enough to cut out any lingering threat of a comeback, but stiffer challenges lie ahead for this Ireland team, beginning with the visit of Georgia on Tuesday.
Republic of Ireland: Darren Randolph; Seamus Coleman, Richard Keogh, Shane Duffy, Enda Stevens; Matt Doherty (Robbie Brady 56), Jeff Hendrick, Conor Hourihane, James McClean; David McGoldrick, Sean Maguire (Harry Arter 72).
Subs not used: Keiren Westwood (gk), Mark Travers (gk), John Egan, Kevin Long, Glenn Whelan, Josh Cullen, Jack Byrne, Aiden O’Brien, James Collins.
Booked: James McClean (45+1), Enda Stevens (67).
Gibraltar: Kyle Goodwin; John Sergeant, Louie Annesley (Adam Priestley 64), Roy Chipolina, Joseph Chipolina; Anthony Barden, Liam Walker, Lee Casciaro, Anthony Hernandez (Alain Pons 78), Jayce Olivero; Tjay De Barr.
Subs not used: Matt Cafer (gk), Dayle Coleing (gk), Aymen Mouelhi, Jean Carlos Garcia, Ethan Britto, Erin Barnett, James Coombes, Ethan Jolley, Andrew Hernandez, Reece Styche.
Booked: Lee Casciaro (42), Tjay De Barr (90+2).
Referee: Anastasios Papapetrou.
Extratime.ie Player of the Match: Conor Hourihane (Republic of Ireland).