The Republic of Ireland Under-21s narrowly lost 2-1 away to Montenegro in their UEFA European Under-21 Championship Qualifier in Podgorica on Tuesday evening. Goals from Nikola Krstovic and Ivan Vukcevic in the opening 10 minutes put Montenegro in front and forced Jim Crawford's side to chase the game. They almost turned it around too with Mark McGuinness forcing Ognjen Obradovic into scoring an own goal before Conor Coventry saw a late penalty kick saved. Having beaten Luxembourg in Tallaght Stadium last week, confidence was high in the Irish squad going into this game but they got caught early on with Krstovic scoring after just three minutes. The tricky attacker raced onto a through ball before rounding the advancing goalkeeper Brian Maher and slotting the ball home from a tight angle. Montenegro doubled their advantage following a quick, incisive move. A deflected cross from the flank was dummied by Ivan Vukcevic but Krstovic quickly touched the ball back into his path and from a tight angle, the forward blasted it into the roof of the net. For a brief moment just past the half an hour mark, Ireland thought they had conceded a third but they were relieved to see that Krstovic’s powerful finish with his head was correctly disallowed as he was stood in an offside position.
Ireland grew into the match following that let off but they couldn’t get the goal to half the deficit before the interval as Will Ferry saw a lob deflect just wide before his crossfield pass picked out Alex Gilbert, whose low drive from the edge of the box was saved. They remained on top throughout the second 45 but it wasn’t until the 73rd minute that they gave themselves hope as McGuinness reacted well to head home after the Montenegrins failed to deal with an in-swinging corner. Substitute JJ Kayode almost nodded in a leveller within seconds of coming on but he could only turn Ferry’s cross wide of the near post. After Ross Tierney and Kayode were denied what looked like certain penalties, Ireland were finally awarded a spot-kick in the 83rd minute when Jake O’Brien was fouled inside the area. But Coventry couldn’t convert his second penalty in a few days as the keeper made a great save low to his left to secure the win for Montenegro.
Next up is a double header against Italy and Sweden as Crawford's team return to Tallaght Stadium next month.
Montenegro: Izevic; Pesukic, Perovic, Babic, Raznatovic; Krstovic, Janjic, Vukotic (Divanovic ht); Vukcevic (Obradovic 70), Sijaric, Krstovic (Kujovic 57).
Republic of Ireland: Maher; O'Connor, O'Brien, McGuinness, Bagan; Coventry, Kilkenny (Devoy 77), Tierney (Kayode 77); Gilbert (O’Neill 60), Ferry, Ferguson (Whelan 60).
Referee: Barbeno Luca (San Marino)