Thursday 22 February 2018

Stokes brace helps King to dream start

Ireland U-21 5
Estonia U-21 0
UEFA u-21 Championship qualifier

Anthony Stokes sinks the ball home from the penalty spot to score his second goal against Estonia. Photo: Stephen McCarthy / Sportsfile
Anthony Stokes sinks the ball home from the penalty spot to score his second goal against Estonia. Photo: Stephen McCarthy / Sportsfile
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

THE perfect start for Noel King, and a pretty good night for his players, with the absence of Giovanni Trapattoni through illness the only down side.

Trap has never seen the U-21s win a competitive game. Indeed, the last time they managed that feat was back in November of 2007 when Steve Staunton was only a month out of the senior job and Trap was just a twinkle in the FAI's eye.

The 71-year-old would have been given food for thought by the stars of this display.

In fairness, this was a nice fixture for King to start with in his new role. He had performers with Premier League experience at his disposal, compared to the Estonians who are largely based in their own country.

However, the demeanour of the success makes the FAI's decision to persist with Don Givens for so long all the more baffling.

After toiling against limited opposition previously, with double humiliation against Armenia the nadir, they strolled to the three points here.

After enduring some miserable nights in the green jersey, they enjoyed this experience. Positive vibes at last, and hopefully a sign of things to come.

The FAI underestimated the level of interest in this new dawn for the second most important national team, initially restricting the attendance to just one side of the Tallaght Stadium. With crowds swelling outside even as the game under way, it was just as well they had enough security to open the other 3,000- seater stand in Dublin 24. With half an hour gone, the overflow raced around to that side.

By that point, Ireland were already two goals to the good, with the result beyond doubt.

King didn't unveil any radical tactical alterations. In fact, he went for the same formation favoured by his predecessor, a fluid 4-5-1.

The difference was that better players were available to him; Givens either exiled them, or didn't have the option because they had minor injuries or were on senior duty.

More pertinently, perhaps, they played without fear, and the swagger of Anthony Stokes inspired their first-half spurt into a position of complete control.

Stokes, whose relationship with Givens was awful, obviously revelled in the new environment, despite operating on the left wing as opposed to his favoured attacking role.

He opened the scoring in style, collecting a James McCarthy centre, cutting inside onto his right foot and launching a powerful drive that gave Marko Meerits little chance.

McCarthy, who would have preferred to be with the seniors, was the most advanced of the central midfield trio, with Owen Garvan and Stephen Gleeson lying deeper.

Conor Clifford, who has plenty of time on his side at this level, was deployed on the right side. The captain of Chelsea's FA Youth Cup-winning team is naturally a central player, but he had to bow to experience.

Goalkeeper Stephen Henderson had been tested twice before the Stokes' opener. Yet, once Ireland claimed the lead, they were relatively comfortable without being wonderful in possession.

They simply had more quality in the danger zone, and Stokes tormented full-back Marek Kaljumae in a passage that culminated with a hack down and a penalty kick, with Dutch referee Paulus van Boekel left with little options.

Up stepped Stokes who waited for the 'keeper to commit and then attempted the audacious cheeky chip penalty, which dropped in off the underside of the crossbar. You wondered what old-school Givens would have made of it.


Defensively, the Irish did make some mistakes and they rode their luck again after the restart when sub Andero Pebre struck the bar. Nevertheless, they regrouped and added a third when Stokes' trickery teed up McCarthy, who bided his time before slotting into the bottom corner.

Cillian Sheridan, who could figure at the Aviva Stadium tonight, was withdrawn with that in mind and McCarthy was another to be given a rest with Saturday's Premier League kick-off on the horizon.

It didn't halt Ireland's momentum, with Seamus Coleman -- who hopes to be involved for Everton this weekend -- fortuitously providing the fourth goal, when he inadvertently deflected a Garvan strike past the hapless Meerits.

Garvan managed to get on the score sheet at the death, though, when Stokes, enjoying the freedom of the pitch, drifted to the right and paved the way for the Crystal Palace new boy to apply a precise finish.

IRELAND -- Henderson, Coleman (Oyebanjo 86), Kiernan, Nolan, Gunning; Clifford, Gleeson, McCarthy (Hourihane 83), Garvan, Stokes; Sheridan (Judge 77).

ESTONIA -- Meerits, Kaljumae (Jevdokimov 62), Jahhimovits, Artjunin, Teniste; Frolov (Pebre 38), Tenno, Puri, Kallaste; Dmitrijev; Alliku (Anier 66).

REF-- P Van Boekel (Netherlands).

Irish Independent

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