Norway edge out Ireland U17 for top spot
Under-17s UEFA Championship first phase qualifier
Republic of Ireland ....0 Norway....1
The Republic of Ireland Under-17s completed their UEFA Championship first phase qualifying series with a narrow defeat against group winners Norway today (Thursday) in Malta.
Both teams had already qualified for next year's elite phase by virtue of each defeating Malta and Albania in their opening two games. As Ireland manager John Morling had started with the same team in both games, he utilised today's fixture to give the seven other squad members starting slots.
The new-look side looked bright from the start and Darragh Lenihan struck the crossbar with a shot following neat interplay between Kieran Sadlier and Sam Byrne.
In Ireland's next attack, Lenihan was adjudged to have fouled as he headed Sean Kavanagh's corner kick into the path of Jamie Smith to convert from close range.
At the other end, Norway's direct style failed to yield early chances but they took the lead on twelve minutes in unlikely circumstances when Jonas Gronner's corner-kick flew through a clutch of players inside the six-yard box and directly into the net.
That breakthrough appeared to galvanise Norway, who enjoyed their most dominant spell of the game for the next 15 minutes when the woodwork saved Ireland from falling further behind and goalkeeper Conor O'Donnell produced a spectacular save.
James Murphy, on target in Ireland's first two matches of the phase, was introduced for the last twenty minutes of the contest as Ireland chased an equaliser and twice got in front of his marker only to miscue his shots.
Morling admitted afterwards he was satisfied with the showing from his young Boys in Green.
"We're already planning for the elite phase and it was important to give all the other lads a run-out today," he said.
"I felt we might have deserved a draw but didn't convert our second half possession into enough clear-cut chances. It's been a good week for the boys; they've learned a lot about working in a tournament environment which can only help their development."
Republic of Ireland: O'Donnell (Ipswich Town); Kavanagh (Belvedere), Smith (Newcastle United), Pierce (Belvedere), Garmston (West Brom); Hyland (Belvedere), Lenihan (Belvedere), Sadlier (West Ham United), Gallagher (Cherry Orchard); McEvoy (Tottenham Hotspur), Byrne (St Joseph's Boys).
Subs: Hoban (Watford) for Smith - inj (35 mins), Dillon (Derby County) for Lenihan (51 mins), Murphy (Reading) for Sadlier (59 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 0-1 Norway - Centenary Stadium, Ta' Qali (2pm).