Clinical Collins puts minnows to sword
U-21 Liechtenstein 1
U-21 Ireland 4
James Collins scored a hat-trick to enable Ireland achieve victory in a tricky UEFA U-21 championship qualifying assignment before a crowd of just 293 spectators in Liechtenstein last night.
However, this was far from a stroll in the Eschen Sports Park for Ireland, who were behind for 12 minutes of the first half.
Ireland were on the back foot from the early stages, with Aidan White required to scamper back after eight minutes to cut out Nicolas Hasler's inviting left-wing cross.
Liechtenstein continued to press and they stunned the visitors with a 14th-minute opener.
Rony Hanselmann -- one of three members of the hosts' senior side that lost just 1-0 to Scotland last Saturday -- fed Niklas Kieber on the inside-right channel and he beat Ian McLoughlin with a low drive from an acute angle.
The Irish team were struggling to pierce their opponents' blanket defence and long-range efforts from Robbie Brady and Conor Clifford were the best they could conjure.
However, after 26 minutes, Liechtenstein forgot how to defend and the lapse cost them dearly.
When Brady lined up to take a corner from the right, he spotted Collins unmarked at the near post and the Shrewsbury Town striker gleefully headed home Brady's neat delivery.
Just like they did after losing the lead against top-seeds Italy at home last Friday, Liechtenstein were ruthlessly exposed at the back.
Greg Cunningham was left all alone on the left to bomb forward on the half- hour. He whipped in a first-time cross and Collins arrived on cue to thunder a diving header past Mario Tichy.
Collins made the most of further slack marking three minutes later to complete his hat-trick with a great volley after being set up by White.
Ireland pressed home their supremacy by making it 4-1 six minutes before the break when Shane Duffy was the beneficiary of another Brady corner.
"We didn't start the game well, but our aerial strength made the difference and James took all his three goals very well," said manager Noel King.
"Turkey came here and scored only twice, whereas we got four. That says a lot about the attacking power of our team, and we've six points on the board now from three matches."
It's not long ago that avoiding the wooden spoon in their qualifying campaign was the aim for the Irish U-21 team. Now the challenge for places at the top with Italy and Turkey is well and truly on.
IRELAND -- McLoughlin (MK Dons); Connolly (Bolton Wds), Canavan (Scunthorpe), Kiernan (Wigan Ath), Cunningham (Man City); Brady (Hull City), Towell (Hibernian), Clifford (Chelsea), White (Leeds); Barton (Preston); Collins (Shrewsbury). Subs: Hourihane (Plymouth) for Clifford (66), Stevens (Shamrock Rvs) for Cunningham (69), Greene (Sligo Rvs) for Brady (79).
LIECHTENSTEIN -- Tichy; Eberle, Kaufmann, Flatz, Hanselmann; Ospelt (Brandle 83 ), Hasler, Eberle, Armando; Pirker, Kieber.
REF -- N Dabanovic (Montenegro)