The Republic Of Ireland could only manage a 1-1 draw against Bulgaria at Croke Park on Saturday, and manager Giovanni Trapattoni will be disappointed with his side's lack of creativity and two dropped points.

Richard Dunne gave the Irish side the lead in the first minute, a perfect start for the Irish, but looked on in horror in the second half as Kevin Kilbane put through his own goal to give the visitors a well deserved equalizer.

Trapattoni will now try to boost his side ahead of their toughest qualifier to date, the trip to Bari next Wednesday to play Italy.

Dunne gave the Irish side the perfect start. Stephen Hunt, replacing the injured Damien Duff, went tearing at the Bulgarian defense and immediately drew a foul. With scarcely a minute on the clock, the winger's free-kick found its way on to the head of the Manchester City skipper at the far post, and he made no mistake in guiding the ball past Dimitar Ivankov.

It was a frenetic opening period, and Bulgaria came roaring straight back. Aston Villa's Stiliyan Petrov found the ball at his feet and from 20 yards he unleashed a fine shot, which Shay Given saved at full stretch.

Petrov would prove central to all of Bulgaria's best work throughout the half, spraying the ball this way and that, while the Irish were reliant on a more direct approach.

Glenn Whelan had the home side's next chance but his long-range shot lacked any real bite in the 20th minute. It was at this point that Bulgaria's Zhivko Milanov, who had been booked for simulation in trying to earn his side a penalty minutes, was taken off and replaced by Radostin Kishishev.

The game went into a lull midway through the half, and only came back to life with a surging run down the right from the impressive Stanislav Manolev. He waltzed past Kevin Kilbane as though he wasn't there, and crossed for the midfielder Angelov, who found the arms of Given with his effort.

Ireland were rattled, and it took a last ditch tackle from John O'Shea to deny Dimitar Rangelov. The visitors' striker then shot two yards over only minutes later.

For Giovanni Trapattoni's side, the best hope came from a punt by Kilbane in the 42nd minute, Ivankov saving at the feet of Kevin Doyle.

Meanwhile, Rangelov was proving an awkward customer, and his drag-back fell to the feet of Ivelin Popov. The midfielder, however, dragged his shot wide, and not long later the half-time whistle sounded.

The start of the second half had none of the impetus of the first. Ireland were cautious to a fault, with Keane and Doyle starved of service from midfield. Whelan and Keith Andrews were particularly guilty, showing no creativity whatsoever.

It wasn't until the 58th minute that the crowd sparked to life. McGeady took advantage of some sloppy Bulgarian defending to close in on goal, but his cross lacked accuracy and Ivankov gathered.

Ireland's best chance of the second half came in the 67th minute. Hunt, by far Ireland's best attacking force, cut in from the left and unleashed a powerful shot on goal. Ivankov could only parry into the path of McGeady. Just when it looked like the youngster would score, he shot meekly at the stopper and the score remained 1-0.

This changed in the 74th minute when Bulgaria got the equalizer. Kishishev's long ball evaded the Irish defense and found Petrov. The 29-year-old knocked the ball back first time, straight into the path of Kilbane who deflected the ball past Given and into the Irish net.

With Bulgaria seemingly happy to sit on a point, Ireland went in search of a winner. Twice in quick succession Robbie Keane stole in on the left. First, his shot sailed harmlessly wide, and the second time his cross was gathered easily by Ivankov.

As normal time faded out, Doyle had a great chance to steal the points. Andrews, on a rare foray forward, exposed the right side of the Bulgarian defense and crossed for Doyle. The Reading striker, normally deadly from such positions, could only find the arms of Ivankov, and it finished all square.