King searching for answers as Irish collapse leaves Euro hopes dashed
Ireland 1 Montenegro 2
IRELAND boss Noel King was left "astounded" as his side squandered an early lead against Montenegro at Tallaght Stadium to be knocked out of the qualification hunt.
Fully aware that three points were essential to face Germany in September with any qualification prospect, Ireland surged ahead and seemed in cruise control.
Matt Doherty's 11th-minute header was the least the hosts deserved from a first-half display that also conjured chances for Seán Murray, Aidan O'Brien and the outstanding Jack Grealish.
Wasting those openings only served to galvanise a Montenegrin team just as needy for the points in the play-off pursuit. Fifteen minutes from full-time, Luka Dordevic levelled with a low shot before Stefan Mugosa's header finished the job two minutes later.
King's crew will now have to complete their campaign against group leaders Germany with nothing only pride to play for.
"Receiving one sucker-punch in a game is bad enough but two is really hard to take," admitted King.
"Their goalkeeper has made some unbelievable saves but there were chances there we should have finished off and scored."
Had Ireland's attackers displayed similar accuracy to defender Doherty then Ireland could be still in the qualification mix today.
A lively start by Ireland yielded a corner when Murray's wicked shot deflected a yard wide.
There would be no let-off for the visitors from Anthony Forde's resulting delivery as the unmarked Doherty rose majestically to plant his header into the top corner.
Control remained in Ireland's hands after the break, with senior cap Jeff Hendrick and Connor Smith dominating in midfield.
Their best chance to kill off the game fell to Shane Duffy 20 minutes from the end from another Forde corner. Goalkeeper Danijel Petkovic batted away the powerful header.
It was the cue for Montenegro to increase the tempo. Dordevic beat Sean McDermott from the edge of the box for the equaliser.
Matters worsened for Ireland two minutes later when a cross by substitute Nemanja Gojacanin was let float to Mugosa at the far post and he headed home.
To compound Ireland's woe, Sean McGinty collected a second booking in the last minute – his second sending-off in the past year.
IRELAND – McDermott (Sandnes Ulf); Doherty (Wolves), Egan (Southend United) Duffy (Yeovil Town), McGinty (Sheffield Utd); Hendrick (Derby County), Smith (Gillingham); Grealish (Notts County), Murray (Watford (Drennan, Portsmouth, 79)), Forde (Wolves (McEvoy, Tottenham, 82)); O'Brien (Millwall (McAlinden, Wolves,79)).
MONTENEGRO – D Petkovic; M Vukcevic, E Alic, M Bakrac, I Bogdanovic; N Kosovic, B Jankovic, D Zoric (N Gojacanin 46); L Dordevic, S Mugosa, M Bakic (R Radunovic 90).
REF – N Hanni (SUI)