REPORT | Ireland U21 3-1 Montenegro U21
Goals from Will Smallbone, the player-of-the-match Liam Kerrigan and Tyreik Wright were enough to earn Ireland the three points - their fourth win in a row - which sees them climb into second place in Group F
Manager Jim Crawford made five changes from the side he selected to start their 3-0 win against Bosnia and Herzegovina at this venue last Friday night.
Tayo Adaramola and Eiran Cashin were handed their debuts in place of Mipo Odubeko and the injured Oisin McEntee while Conor Noss, Liam Kerrigan, and JJ Kayode also came in for Gavin Killkenny, Ross Tierney, and Joel Bagan.
The two sides cancelled each other out for large periods of the first half although captain Conor Coventry, who was breaking the all-time record of Ireland U21s appearances, did threaten with 12 minutes on the clock but he dragged his shot from distance wide of the target.
Noss was one of Ireland’s standout performers in the first 45 and he went close to giving his country the lead just shy of the half an hour mark but after skillfully bursting past two of his markers, his thunderous goalbound shot was blocked by the defence.
Kerrigan did well to prevent a long pass into the right channel from going out of play on 37 minutes before he used his pace to beat his man and force a good save from Montenegro goalkeeper Nikola Ivezic at his near post.
The visiting keeper needed to be alert from the resulting corner as Noss sidefooted a clever short corner towards the far bottom left corner but he got down well to keep it out.
But he would be beaten shortly before the half time break as Smallbone grabbed his third goal in just three days to give the young Boys in Green a huge advantage.
Cashin's hopeful cross was smartly knocked down into Smallbone’s path by Kayode and after a great touch of his own, the number ten blasted a controlled half volley into the far bottom right corner of the net.
Montenegro started the second period brightly and Brian Maher was required to make an excellent stop to prevent captain Nikola Krstovic’s low drive from finding his far corner.
And that moment proved to be decisive as Ireland made it 2-0 moments later thanks to a well-worked set-piece.
Smallbone’s inswinging free kick picked out Cashin in space at the back post and his dangerous header across the face of goal found Kerrigan, who controlled the ball with his right foot before slotting it home from a couple of yards with his left.
And the Republic all but sealed a significant victory in the 67th minute when, shortly after being introduced from the bench, Evan Ferguson teed up Wright who coolly turned the ball into the far corner from close-range.
Montenegro, to their credit, battled until the end and they grabbed what would ultimately prove to be just a consolation with 14 minutes remaining when Viktor Dukanovic curled the ball into the bottom right corner after good work from Dorde Saletic.
Next up for Ireland, who could have added a fourth late on but Ferguson headed wide after Smalbone’s free was saved, is their last game of the group stage where they face Italy at the Stadio Cino e Lillo Del Duca in Ascoli on Tuesday, June 14
Republic of Ireland : Maher; O’Connor, Cashin, McGuinness, Adaramola (Lyons 84); Smallbone, Noß (Kilkenny 63), Coventry, Wright; Kerrigan, Ogunfaolu-Kayode (Ferguson 63).
Montenegro: Ivezic; Pesukic, Obradovic, Babic, Saletic; Brnovic (S Krstovic 60), Janjic (Vukcevic 69); Vukcevic (Mijovic 60), Divanovic (Strikovic 84), Dukanovic; N Krstovic.
Referee: Jan Petrik (Czech Republic).