Sport Soccer

Sunday 17 December 2017

U-21s bidding to avoid basement finish

Stephen Finn

IRELAND'S nightmare U-21 European Championship campaign finishes this afternoon with a testing fixture against Turkey in Kocaeli.

Wim Koevermans will continue as temporary boss, as manager Noel King is in Trinidad with the women's U-17s at the World Cup.

A spate of injuries and suspensions have left Koevermans with little option but to pick possibly the youngest starting XI the country has ever fielded for a competitive game at this age-group. The Irish started one current U-19 international -- Robert Brady -- and four graduates of last year's side at that age-group in a 1-0 loss to Switzerland last Friday.

And with Anthony Stokes and Eddie Nolan suspended after receiving yellow cards in that game, injuries have further stretched resources.

Alan Judge, Gavin Gunning and Shane O'Connor all withdrew over the weekend. Derry City's Shane McEleney and Dundalk's Daniel Kearns were drafted in yesterday, joining fellow late call-ups Paddy Madden of Bohemians and Galway United pair Seamus Conneely and Karl Sheppard.

Celtic midfielder Richie Towell had an impressive debut at this grade against Switzerland and hopes that the spirited display can give the next crop of U-21s something to build on.

"There are a few of us who have come up through the ranks together. Hopefully this is another stepping stone for us," he said.

"These two games will give us a bit of experience at this level and hopefully in the next campaign we can have a really strong team.

"I was happy with how I played on Friday. The manager was delighted with our performance and I thought it went very well, aside from the result.

"We absolutely battered them in the first half. We created so many chances. Against Turkey we're going to have to be more clinical."

The Irish need a win to avoid finishing bottom of the group.

The win over Estonia last month was the only victory they have had to show for their nine matches in a group that contains none of Europe's elite nations. The story of the campaign has been of wasted opportunities, as the Irish created more than 100 chances overall but scored just 11 goals.

IRELAND U-21 squad v Turkey (Kocaeli, today 4.0) -- S Henderson (Bristol City), S Redmond (Chesterfield), S Coleman (Everton), B Moloney (Nottingham Forest), R Kiernan (Yeovil Town), L Oyebanjo (Histon), S McEleney (Derry City); R Towell (Celtic), C Hourihane (Ipswich), S Conneely (Galway Utd), G Carey (Huddersfield), C Clifford (Chelsea), K Sheppard (Galway Utd), R Brady (Man Utd); A Rooney (Inverness CT), P Madden (Bohemians), J Mason (Plymouth), D Kearns (Dundalk).

Irish Independent

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