Aaron Connolly steals the show as Stephen Kenny’s young guns display attacking promise in Armenian win
Republic of Ireland 1 Armenia 0
Green shoots were on view in every area of the pitch as Stephen Kenny’s side managed to live up to the hype and deliver a winning performance which will have won over everyone who witnessed it.
Mick McCarthy and his senior team staff were among the 3,658 crowd at Tallaght Stadium where Ireland’s U-21s made it two wins from two games in their qualifying group for Euro 2021.
The result, and their start to Group 1 in the qualifiers, is impressive but the attacking display by Kenny’s side will give hope to all who have laboured, and suffered, in the world of Irish football over the last year, though it would have been ever better if the near-constant Irish pressure had delivered more than one goal.
U-21 football is, of course, different to the white heat of battle in a qualifier for the World Cup and Irish football has seen plenty of prodigious talent fail to build on early promise, but the signs from what could be Ireland’s best side at U-21 level are very, very promising.
Troy Parrott, making a rare appearance in his native Dublin, marked his debut with a goal – but the night was not just about the Spurs prodigy, but those around him.
Galway’s Aaron Connolly, who made his Premier League debut for Brighton just a week earlier, was breathtaking, his skill and pace as a wide player something that’s not been seen in the senior Ireland XI for some time, while captain Jayson Molumby and Gavin Kilkenny also looked as if they can aspire to bigger things.
The defence was rarely tested by a technically-gifted but unconvincing Armenia side, but there was a nice shape to the back four which had Lee O’Connor and Darragh Leahy as full-backs and the composed Dara O’Shea and Conor Masterson in the middle.
At one stage early in the second half Masterson got himself in a spot of bother by giving away possession but sidekick O’Shea nipped in to clear the danger, a nice partnership between the two Dubliners.
Ireland, who began the campaign with a 3-0 win at home to Luxembourg, started well in Tallaght, with early chances for Adam Idah and Molumby.
Irish goalkeeper Caoimhín Kelleher was largely untroubled, bar a speculative shot from Vahan Bichakhchyan on 17 minutes.
Ireland, and their supporters, had to be patient but there was confidence the goal would come, and when it did, on 31 minutes, it was a team effort.
Goalkeeper Kelleher fed the ball out to left-back Leahy, he passed to Connolly who took the ball on the halfway line, burst forward, beat two men and crossed for Parrott for a simple finish.
Connolly could have made it 2-0 on 36 minutes after a poor clearance from goalkeeper Sevak Aslanyan came his way but his shot was saved.
The only downside for the home supporters was that Kenny’s outfit were unable to add to the single goal scored by Parrott, who was replaced for the final ten minutes by fellow Dubliner Jonathan Afolabi.
Connolly had plenty of the ball but his efforts were either off-target or saved.
Ireland could have added to their tally on 54 minutes, when a horrendous pass by Hovhannes Nazaryan gifted the ball to Idah, he slid a pass in to Parrott but his shot came back off the post and while Idah’s rebound shot went over.
Parrott tried his luck with a free-kick on 66 minutes but was not on target and 1-0 had to do.
Ireland – Kelleher; O’Connor, Masterson, O’Shea, Leahy; Molumby, Coventry; Kilkenny (Elbouzedi 65), Parrott (Afolabi 81), Connolly (Knight 88); Idah (Mandroiu 65).
Armenia - Aslanyan; Ghubasaryan, Nazaryan, Khachumyan, Grigoryan; Nadiryan (Vardanyan 81), Mkrtchyan; Nahapetyan (Tsaturyan 81), Bichakhchyan (Khamoyan 76), Melkonyan; Kurbashyan (Movsesyan 68).
Ref – Fyodor Zammit