Ireland progress to UEFA U17 elite qualifiers
Under-17 UEFA Championship first phase qualifier
Republic of Ireland 2-0 Albania
Philip Roberts 1
James Murphy 10
TWO early goals against Albania today (Monday) at the Centenary Stadium, Ta'Quli in Malta put the Republic of Ireland Under-17s on the qualification trail as they confirmed their place in the elite phase of the series.
Saturday's 3-1 win over Malta in their opener gave John Morling's side a boost and today in demanding circumstances they ensured their progress alongside Norway as the two qualifiers from the four nation group.
Ireland will face Norway in Thursday's concluding qualifier knowing victory will see them finish top of the group and guarantee a first seeding in the elite draw to be made later this year.
Morling kept faith with the same starting team from Saturday and they struck within the first minute. Colm Horgan and Darragh Lenihan combined to free Kenny McEvoy into space on the right wing and his low cross was bundled over the line by the alert Philip Roberts.
That strike, with just 38 seconds gone, provided Ireland with the impetus to seek further goals and they doubled their advantage in similar fashion on ten minutes.
McEvoy worked his magic on the flank by skipping past two defenders and on cue to head home his pinpoint delivery was James Murphy.
Ireland's storming start should have yielded a third goal six minutes later only for the offside flag to be harshly raised when Tommie Hoban nodded a Mikey Drennan cross past goalkeeper Aldo Tedja.
Joe Coll in the Irish goal had a quiet opening half hour but was on guard to keep out Hoxha's free-kick in Albania's first real attempt on goal.
The second half saw Ireland maintain their high tempo with Lenihan and Kealan Dillon close to adding more goals in the opening quarter of an hour.
Sam Byrne, an interval replacement for Roberts, sped free of his marker on 74 minutes yet his shot from point blank range was well stopped by Tedja.
Ireland's performance was all the more admirable given the gamesmanship dished out by their opponents.
"We scored early and could have won by more," said Morling afterwards. "The players kept possession well in the second half and saw out the game for a deserved victory.
"It was a great effort by the lads in an environment they wouldn't have experienced before.
"We had six players receive bookings but most of these were undeserved. I thought our lads remained calm in the face of much provocation.
"To qualify with a game left is a marvelous tribute to the players and they certainly were the better team in both games so far."
Republic of Ireland: Coll (Manchester United); Horgan (Salthill Devon), Smith (Newcastle United), Hoban (Watford), Kavanagh (Belvedere); Drennan (Aston Villa), Lenihan (Belvedere), Dillon (Derby County), McEvoy (Tottenham Hotspur); Murphy (Reading), Roberts (Arsenal),
Substiutions: Byrne (St Joseph's Boys) for Roberts (h/t), Garmston (West Brom) for Drennan (70 mins), Sadlier (West Ham United) for Murphy (79 mins).
UEFA Under-17 Championship first phase qualifiers
Saturday September 25
Republic of Ireland 3-1 Malta, Centenary Stadium, Ta' Qali (11am)
Monday September 27
Republic of Ireland 2-0 Albania - Centenary Stadium, Ta' Qali (2pm)
Thursday September 30
Republic of Ireland v Norway - Centenary Stadium, Ta' Qali (2pm).