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Ireland U21s suffer big qualification blow following horror start in Montenegro

Jim Crawford’s side were unable to adequately recover after conceding twice in the opening nine minutes.
Oct 12th 2021, 6:37 PM 22,821 2

nikola-krstovic-with-conor-coventry-and-mark-mcguinness Nikola Krstović of Montenegro under pressure from Ireland's Conor Coventry and Mark McGuinness. Source: Filip Filipovic/INPHO

Montenegro 2-1 Ireland

IRELAND’S UNBEATEN START to their U21 European Championship qualification campaign came to a disappointing end this evening in Podgorica.

Jim Crawford’s side, who had taken seven points from their three games to date, conceded twice inside the opening nine minutes en route to a costly loss to Montenegro.

A second-half goal from Cardiff City defender Mark McGuinness threw Ireland a lifeline, but a chance to earn a point was passed up when captain Conor Coventry was unable to convert a late penalty.

Crawford freshened up his attack by making three changes from the win over Luxembourg, as Tyreik Wright, Liam Kerrigan and Joshua Kayode – who opened the scoring in Dublin on Friday – were replaced by Will Ferry, Alex Gilbert and 16-year-old Evan Ferguson.

The Boys in Green were chasing the game with just over three minutes played. Ireland’s defence left itself too open as Omar Sarif Sijaric played in Nikola Krstović. Brian Maher rushed out from his line when staying put may have been a wiser option, allowing Krstović to take the ball beyond the Bray Wanderers goalkeeper and finish from a tight angle.

Five minutes later, Krstović turned provider as the hosts doubled their lead. After Ferry was guilty of squandering possession deep in Ireland’s half, the Montenegro captain teed up Ivan Vukcevic to beat Maher at his near post with an emphatic close-range strike.

Montenegro had the ball in the net again when Srdjan Krstović headed in a free-kick just after the half-hour mark, but Ireland were relieved to see that the linesman’s flag had correctly been raised for an offside.

Ferry and Gilbert, Ireland’s wide attackers, switched wings late in the half, which seemed to be the catalyst for Crawford’s side to finally threaten to reduce the deficit.

the-ireland-team The Ireland team pictured before kick-off. Source: Filip Filipovic/INPHO

Having been released by Ross Tierney, Ferry had Ireland’s best chance of the first half. The Southampton youngster, who’s currently on loan at League Two side Crawley Town, got his shot off but it was diverted away from the target by a partial block from Danilo Pešukić.

Moments later, Ferry switched the play by picking out Gilbert on the edge of the box, only for the Swindon Town (on loan from Brentford) player to see his shot well saved by Nikola Ivezić.

Ireland had a claim for a penalty early in the second half as Tierney appeared to be barged over in the box by Anto Babić. However, a somewhat questionable decision by referee Luca Barbeno saw the Bohemians player booked for simulation.

Later on, Babić was fortunate once again when he jostled with Kayode. The Ireland substitute went down but, like Tierney, he too was given a yellow card instead of a penalty.

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The visitors pulled a goal back on 74 minutes, as Montenegro failed to deal with an awkward corner delivered by Ferry. Ivezić’s attempt to punch the ball clear fell kindly for McGuinness, who headed Ireland back into the contest.

A penalty was finally awarded to Ireland in the 84th minute as a result of a foul on Jake O’Brien by Nemanja Perović. Coventry, who scored from the spot against Luxembourg on Friday, stepped up again but this effort was kept out by Ivezić.

The defeat deals a significant blow to Ireland’s qualification hopes ahead of next month’s double-header of home games. Group F pace-setters Italy and Sweden, who played out a 1-1 draw today, are the visitors to Tallaght Stadium on 12 and 16 November respectively.

Montenegro: Nikola Ivezić; Danilo Pešukić, Nemanja Perović, Anto Babić, Andrija Ražnatović (Vuk Striković, 87); Srdjan Krstović (Arnel Kujović, 55), Nikola Janjić; Ivan Vukcevic (Ognjen Obradović, 71), Milan Vukotic (Zaim Divanović, HT), Omar Sarif Sijaric (Đorđe Šaletić, 71); Nikola Krstović.

Ireland: Brian Maher; Lee O’Connor, Jake O’Brien, Mark McGuinness, Joel Bagan; Conor Coventry, Gavin Kilkenny (Joshua Kayode, 77); Alex Gilbert (Ollie O’Neill, 61), Ross Tierney (Dawson Devoy, 77), Will Ferry; Evan Ferguson (Colm Whelan, 61).

Referee: Luca Barbeno (San Marino).

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Paul Dollery

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