Montenegro U21 2 Republic of Ireland U21 1
The Republic of Ireland under-21s suffered a set-back in their quest for European Championship qualification as they fell to a one-goal defeat against Montenegro at the Podgorica City Stadium.
This result represents a first reversal in Group F for Jim Crawford’s charges and sees them dropping down to fourth place in the table with six games remaining.
Early goals from Nikola Krstovic and Ivan Vukcevic put the home team in the driving seat and while Mark McGuinness's headed finish gave Ireland hope inside the final-quarter, Conor Coventry's missed penalty ensured they fell short of claiming a share of the spoils.
Ireland were confident of building on their 2-0 victory over Luxembourg in Tallaght last Friday, but endured a disastrous start to the contest.
Latching onto a fourth-minute pass from Omar Sijaric, Montenegro skipper Krstovic took the ball around the advanced Brian Maher and fired into the empty net from a wide left-hand angle.
This was the first time Crawford’s charges had found themselves in arrears during this campaign and their task became even more difficult when the hosts doubled their lead inside the opening 10 minutes. Following neat approach work by the impressive Krstovic, Vukcevic hammered a close-range strike beyond the reach of Maher.
While Ireland, who showed three changes from the Luxembourg game, had some positive spells of possession, the Montenegrin defence were holding firm.
Although they became more of a threat towards the end of the half – Will Ferry and Alex Gilbert both going close to clawing a goal back – the visitors were ultimately 2-0 behind at the interval.
Krstovic had another sight of goal just after the restart, firing marginally over the crossbar after working the ball onto his right foot.
Ireland appeared to have a claim for a penalty on 51 minutes when Bohemians star Ross Tierney went down under a challenge from Anto Babic. However, San Marino referee Barbeno Luca instead issued Tierney with a yellow card for simulation.
Despite finding opportunities hard to come by, the lifeline Ireland desired finally arrived in the 74th-minute.
Centre half McGuinness headed towards goal off a Ferry corner from the right-hand side and in spite of Ognen Obradovic’s best efforts to clear the danger, it found its way to the back of the net.
Ireland were suddenly within reach of at least a point and had a glorious chance to wipe out Montenegro's cushion with just six minutes left in normal time. Having fired home from the spot last Friday, team captain Coventry once again stepped up to the mark when Jake O'Brien was fouled inside the area by Nemanja Perovic.
Montenegrin goalkeeper Nikola Ivezic got a big hand to the midfielder's strike, however, and eventually gathered possession after the ball had rebounded off the post.
Substitutes Ollie O'Neill, Colm Whelan and Joshua Kayode (who also had a strong penalty shout that went against him) made strong impacts off the bench, but it wasn't enough to prevent Montenegro from securing all three points.
MONTENEGRO: Ivezic; Pešukic, Perovic, Babic, Ražnatovic (Strikovic, 87 mins); S Krstovic (Kujovic, 55 mins), Janjic; Vukcevic (Obradovic, 71 mins), Vukotic (Divanovic, 46 mins), Sijaric (Šaletic, 71 mins); N Krstovic.
REPUBLIC OF IRELAND: Maher; O'Connor, O'Brien, McGuinness; Bagan; Kilkenny (Kayode, 77 mins), Coventry; Gilbert (O'Neill, 60 mins), Tierney (Devoy, 77 mins), Ferry; Ferguson (Whelan, 60 mins).
Referee: B Luca (San Marino).