Ireland finish U21 campaign with 4-2 win in Italy
UEFA U21 Championships Group Seven: Italy 2 Republic of Ireland 4
Ireland's scorers: Aaron Doran, Sean Murray & Conor Henderson
NOEL KING'S Republic of Ireland Under-21 team have finished their UEFA Championships campaign on a remarkable high after stunning Group Seven winners Italy in Casarano.
The Irish went into this fixture by handing first starts to six young guns with an eye to the next qualifying campaign but ended up securing an unforgettable win that clinched third spot in the group.
What was even more noteworthy was that Ireland had to play from the 37th minute with ten men following the harsh dismissal of Derrick Williams and ended up with nine men as Anthony Forde was also dismissed late on.
This result will rightly be considered one of the best ever achieved away from home by an Irish side at any level.
Ireland had drawn impressively 2-2 with the Italians in Sligo in June but the line-ups this evening saw just four Irish players remaining from that fixture. Italy had five of their players from that fixture involved.
However seven of the Irish players are eligible for the next Under-21 campaign so manager King will have plenty to look forward to when that fixture list is confirmed.
Sean Murray capped his debut with a stunning opening goal in the 23rd minute. The Watford winger ran onto a pass that had been intended for the offside Aaron Doran and took possession so he was ok to play on.
The debut boy was not prepared to waste this opportunity and produced a sensational curling shot from close to 30 yards out that looped over the advancing the Mattia Perin in the Italian goal and landed sweetly in the back of the net.
Italy equalised in the 35th minute when their captain Luca Caldirola got his head to a corner by AC Milan star Stephan El Shaarawy to head past Aaron McCarey from ten yards out.
The game looked to turn Italy's direction in a major way when Genoa striker Ciro Immobile went down in the box under a challenge from Williams. The young Aston Villa defender was very unfortunate to have a red card shown for what was a minor offence.
Down to ten men, Ireland looked set to go behind but McCarey showed real alertness to get down quickly and hold Immobile's penalty - Ireland's third game in a row to save a spot-kick at this level.
Ireland knew that every chance they got after that could prove crucial and they were unfortunate not to score a bizarre goal in the 51st minute when Conor Henderson curled in a free-kick from the right that Juventus defender Alberto Masi headed against the head of Ireland's John Egan. The loose ball rebounded towards goal but landed on the roof of the net.
Arsenal midfielder Henderson played a pivotal role in Ireland regaining the lead in the 57th minute when he fed Doran, who used his pace to outstrip the home defence then produced a composed finish to slot home.
The home crowd was silenced when Henderson made it 3-1 with an outrageous strike from more than 30 yards out that flew into the top corner of the home goal.
To everybody's surprise the floodlights then went out and the game was delayed for more than 20 minutes as the source of the problem was addressed.
Doran's pace frightened the life out of the Italian back four and in the 67th minute he was taken down by Masi as he cut in from the left. Henderson was unlucky to shoot wide from the resulting free-kick.
Italy knew the Irish were showing serious resolve with Egan making a crucial block to deny substitute Karim Laribi and then El Shaarawy's deflected strike was brilliantly saved by McCarey.
Ireland went 4-1 up in the 76th minute when Doran made a brilliant break down the left, cut inside Masi and then lifted the ball over the exposed keeper to send the visiting side into ecstasy.
The drama continued when Anthony Forde was showed two yellow cards in as many minutes to leave the Irish with nine men.
Bizarrely the floodlights failed again and after play was resumed El Shaarawy scored from close range in injury-time to end the scoring. It was too late to have any further impact and the Irish record a fabulous victory.
King was elated afterwards: "It has to be one of the best Irish results ever. When you take all the circumstances into play, with nine men in Italy, so much went against us. The lights went out but the spirits never did.
"We drew with Italy in the Showgrounds. We've been competitive in every game and unfortunately lost three games and we could have won them.
"The quality of the goals were amazing. The four goals would be goal of the season contenders."
ITALY: Mattia Perin, Marco Faraoni, Alessandro Crescenzi, Alberto Masi, Fausto Rossi, Luca Caldirola (C), Jacopo Sala (Federico Viviani 46), Luca Marrone (Karim Laribi 69), Ciro Immobile (Giuseppe De Luca 58), Stephan El Shaarawy, Manolo Gabbiadini.
REPUBLIC OF IRELAND: Aaron McCarey, Matthew Doherty, Aidan White (C), John Egan, Derrick Williams, Conor Henderson, Anthony Forde, Samir Carruthers, Aaron Doran, Sean Murray, Eunan O'Kane.
REFEREE: Ivan Kružliak (SVK).