TWO SECOND HALF goals saw Ireland’s hopes of making next year’s UEFA U21 Championships dashed by Montenegro at Tallaght Stadium today.
Noel King’s side took an early lead through a Matt Doherty header but were unable to add to their advantage during a dominant first half display.
They had further chances to score after the break and were then hit by two goals in three minutes. The defeat leaves Ireland fourth in Group 6 ahead of their final qualifier against Germany in September meaning they cannot qualify for the finals in Czech Republic.
Ireland began strongly and bossed possession in the opening minutes — the first meaningful attempt on goal arriving when Connor Smith won the ball in midfield before advancing forward and sending a strike over the bar.
Three minutes later, Jack Grealish showed good feet and a great turn of pace to get away down the right flank and tee-up Sean Murray, whose low drive was deflected behind.
And the resulting corner saw the home side take the lead. Anthony Forde provided the delivery to the back post where Wolves full-back Doherty headed home.
Noel King’s men were getting joy down the right side and a whipped cross made its way across to Forde on 20 minutes. He passed up an early chance to shoot but eventually laid off to O’Brien, who couldn’t keep his attempt down.
While Smith and senior international Hendrick controlled things in the middle of the park, 18-year-old Grealish floated from one flank to the other and showed why his is so highly-rated.
Derby County’s Hendrick then made a solo run from deep and held up the play for team-mates to join him. The ball found its way back to Grealish and he was a yard away from finding the bottom corner.
The visitors had to wait until the stroke of half-time to create their first chance when Stefan Mugosa avoided a couple of challenges and shot marginally wide.
After a lacklustre opening 45, Montenegro came out strongly in the second half and Marko Vukcevic forced Sean McDermott into a block at his near post seconds in.
Hendrick had a decent shot saved before Branislav Jankovic and Vukcevic were kept out by Sandnes Ulf stopper McDermott down the other end.
Everton defender Duffy, currently impressing on loan at Yeovil Town, came close with a header from a couple of yards out and Forde then stung the palms of Petkovic.
With 15 minutes remaining, however, disaster struck as Ireland conceded twice in quick succession.
First John Egan gave away possession and Luka Dordevic was allowed to advance goalward and let fly from 20 yards.
Three minutes later, Mugso found himself free at the back post to head past McDermott.
And in injury time, full-back Sean McGinty was sent after receiving a second booking.
IRELAND: Sean McDermott, Matt Doherty, Sean McGinty, John Egan, Shane Duffy (c), Connor SMith, Jeff Hendrick, Jack Grealish, Aiden O’Brien (Michael Drennan 77′), Sean Murray (Liam McAlinden 77′), Anthony Forde (Kenneth McEvoy 82′).
MONTENEGRO: Danijel Petkovic, Ilija Bogdanovic, Milos Bakrac, Marko Vukcevic, Nebojsa Kosovic, Stefan Mugosa, Marko Bakic (Risto Radunovic 90′) Luka Dordevic (Andrija Vukcevic 93′) Ermin Alic (c), Branislav Jankovic, Darko Zoric (Nemanja Gojacanin 45′).
Referee: Nikolaj Hanni.