A first-half goal by Tom Cannon cancelled out a strike by Kistall Máni Inagson before Ireland saw Festy Ebosele dismissed before the break. Substitute Johnny Kenny came off the bench to score the winner as Jim Crawford's team began a new era with a win.
Only seven of the 22 players named in the squad had been capped at Under-21 level previously. So, a friendly against a very talented Iceland who, like Ireland, fell at the final hurdle of the U21 EURO qualification stages in the play-offs, was the perfect opportunity to stake a claim for a place in the squad going forward to the upcoming 2025 U21 EURO qualifiers.
The hosts started very brightly, and it was the on-loan Derry City star Ollie O’Neill who went close early on. Robbing the ball in the middle of the park, O’Neill showed good pace to drive into the area, but was unfortunate to see his shot trickle into the hands of Adam Ingi Benediktsson.
One player who generated a lot of excitement pregame was the Everton striker, currently on-loan at Preston North End, Cannon. And the talented front man justified the hype and his inclusion from the start, with an impressive performance up front.
Newly appointed Captain, Joe Hodge, also put on a classy display in the middle of the park and the aforementioned two young stars linked up well for the next chance on goal.
Hodge clipped a delightful ball over the top for Cannon, who showed great pace to latch onto the through ball. But just as the front man cut inside to pull the trigger, saw the ball bobble slightly resulting in his left footed effort sailing over.
After a bright start from the home side, it was actually the visitors who got themselves in front with a quarter of an hour played. Isak Andri Sigurgeirsson showed quick feet to skip by the challenge of Sam Curtis before teeing up Ingason who side footed expertly into the top corner.
Jim Crawford’s men were lucky to not find themselves further behind seven minutes later when Ingason thought he got his second of the game. The attacking midfielder smashed home from another cut back, only to see the assistant’s flag being raised for offside, as Eythor Aron Wohler looked to be in the eyeline of Irish stopper, Tiernan Brooks.
Ireland deservedly got themselves back on level terms almost immediately, when Andy Moran cleverly found another well timed run by Cannon who showed great composure to finish low across goal into the bottom corner.
Just after the half-hour mark disaster struck for the home side when Festy Ebosele received both a yellow card, and a straight red card in the matter of seconds. Despite having looked like he was the one hauled down by Olafur Gudmundsson, who was last man at the back and preventing a clear run-on goal, referee Jamie Robinson pointed for a free kick in the defender’s favour. Unfortunately, the Udinese winger let frustration get the better of him resulting in an early dismissal.
Despite being a man down, Cannon’s pace and movement was causing major problems for the Icelandic backline as the terrific trio of Moran, Hodge and Cannon continued to carry a goal threat.
The well organised 10-men continued to play on the front foot and were unlucky not to get in front seven minutes after the restart. Brighton’s Moran made a lung bursting run over the top, held up the ball before squaring to Hodge, whose shot was well saved by substitute keeper, Olafur Kristofer Helgason.
With 20 minutes remaining the Fylkir keeper Helgason was called into action yet again, pulling off a top class save from Anselmo Garcia MacNulty who’s header looked destined for the top corner.
Continuing to dominate, and playing the game on their own terms, the young Irish side got themselves deservedly in front with just seven minutes remaining through a Johnny Kenny stunner. The Celtic man, on-loan at Shamrock Rovers, collected the ball short from a throw-in before spinning his marker and rifling into the bottom corner from outside the area with his left foot.
Somehow the score remained 2-1 as the clock ticked over into injury time as Ireland were guilty of missing two glorious chances to extend their lead. The livewire front man Kenny was in the mood to add to his tally, and again cut in on his left foot inside the area but couldn’t find the corner on this occasion, before Hodge headed straight onto the post from a delightful outside of the boot cross by Killian Phillips.
Speaking after the game Ireland Under-21 Head Coach Jim Crawford said: "It (the game) was a fantastic end to a great week with the players. They've been exceptional all week. A few of the players didn't get on the pitch today but their time will come - we've another window in June.
"We had to manage the sending off. We went in at half-time one all and against a team with four senior internationals so we knew it was going to be a challenge. We went a goal down, we concede again but it was ruled out and we had to get back to the basics. The players showed character, Irish pride, Irish passion and I thought in the second half we were exceptional. I said it to the boys at the start of the week I was excited by them and they didn't let me down
"We had 6,000 plus in the stadium today - for a friendly - and it's about inspiring those fans. I want to thank them for their amazing support and I'm delighted for them, the players and the staff."
Johnny Kenny, who had only been on the pitch for six minutes when he scored, added: "Any time I step out for my country, they're probably the best games I play in. I have a good record for Ireland and hopefully I can keep that going. I think this can give me a boost at club level and hopefully I can kick on from here now.
"The lads performed very well and played with 10 men for the majority of the game and were still the better side for most of it. I knew Jim would call on me at some stage so I'm glad I can repay him."
Republic of Ireland: Tiernan Brooks, Sam Curtis, Anselmo Garcia MacNulty, Bosun Lawal (Tayo Adaramola, 82’), Sean Roughan, Festy Ebosele, Joe Hodge, Killian Phillips, Andy Moran (Kian Leavy, 62’), Ollie O’Neill (Sinclair Armstrong, 62’), Tom Cannon (Johnny Kenny, 76’)
Iceland: Adam Ingi Bebnediktsson (Olafur Kristoffer Helgason, 45’), Jakob Franz Palsson (Arnor Gauti Jonsson, 88’), Robert Orri Thorkelsson, Olafur Gudmundsson (Orri Hrafn Kjartansson, 69’), Anton Logi Ludviksson, Andri Fannar Baldursson, Eythor Aron Wohler (Lukas Logi Heimisson, 45’), Kristall Mani Ingason, Isak Andri Sigurgeirsson (Ulfur August Bjornsson, 69’), Oli Valur Omarsson (Andi Hoti, 8’), Danjel Dejan Djuric
Referee: Jamie Robinson (Northern Ireland)