Monday 18 December 2017

Noel King hails Ireland Under-21's 'magnificent performance'

UEFA U-21 Championship Qualifier - Montenegro 0 Ireland 0

John Fallon

Shackling an emerging Montenegro side on their home patch was admirable enough for Ireland's U-21s, but to do so in monsoon-like conditions at the Podgorica City Stadium deserves extra credit.

After what Ireland manager Noel King labelled his side's best away display of the campaign, his charges leave the Balkans still very much in the hunt for second place in their qualifying group.

This result leaves both sides deadlocked on eight points in the pursuit of second spot, although Ireland have played a game more.

King believes that, with Montenegro to visit Sligo in March, a play-off spot is still up for grabs.

"After such a magnificent performance, we'll be very confident of beating them at home," he said.

Aiden O'Brien spurned a gilt-edged chance to nick it for the Irish in stoppage-time when he put his free header straight at Danijel Petkovic from six yards.

That capped a spell of late dominance from the visitors that should have translated into a winner.

From the third minute, when Sean Murray drew Petkovic into an early save, Ireland looked the brighter team. The deluge that had swamped the city yesterday morning returned during the first half, turning the pitch into a swamp.

However, Ireland persevered with their passing style, Murray and Jack Grealish linking well to expose a lack of pace in the heart of the Montenegro defence.

Ireland, relatively untroubled in the first half, were given a scare just four minutes after the restart from Darko Zoric's corner.

The cross was powerfully met by Stefan Mugosa but the header was hacked off the line by a sliding Samir Carruthers.

Though Sean McDermott in the Irish goal became busier as the game wore on – especially when rescuing a Shane Duffy blunder that allowed Luka Djordevic a clear sight on goal – the Boys in Green finished the stronger.

With 10 minutes left, O'Brien's knockdown fell perfectly for the onrushing Callum Reilly, only for the Birmingham City midfielder to blaze over.

Moments later, Grealish almost forced a winner in the last minute with a near-post shot that was deflected out for a corner.

But O'Brien's last-gasp opportunity was the most regrettable.

A pinpoint right-wing delivery from Murray was right on his head, yet the accuracy to trouble Petkovic was sadly absent.

IRELAND – S McDermott (Sandnes Ulf); M Harriman (Gillingham), S Duffy (Yeovil Town), D Williams (Bristol City),

S McGinty (Sheffield Utd); C Reilly (Birmingham City),

S Carruthers (MK Dons); A Forde (Wolves), S Murray (Watford), J Grealish (Notts County); A O'Brien (Millwall).

Ref – V Vnak (SVK)

Irish Independent

Promoted Links

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Promoted Links

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport