Ollie O’Neill’s last-minute winner keeps Ireland under-21 qualification hopes alive

Fulham player comes off the bench late on to down Sweden in Tallaght

Republic of Ireland under-21 1 Sweden under-21 0

Patience was the key as Ireland stole a last-minute winner against Sweden in Tallaght Stadium this evening to keep their European Championship qualification hopes alive. A wonderful through ball from captain Conor Coventry was controlled well by Fulham's Ollie O'Neill who cut inside and powered a low effort beyond the Swedish goalkeeper Samuel Brolin.

The result leaves Ireland with a fighting chance in the group as they cut the gap to table topper Sweden to four points.

The opening exchanges were a tepid affair, both teams keeping the ball but failing to create anything of note in an attacking sense.


It took until the 18th minute before either goalkeeper was tested, Rami Al Hajj played a one-two with Amin Sarr before dribbling past Jake O'Brien and powering a left-footed effort which Brian Maher punched behind.

Just three minutes later, Manchester United youngster Anthony Elanga powered beyond Lee O'Connor before going down under a sprawling challenge from the Irish right back, but referee Peter Kralovic waved away the protests.

Ireland grew into the game gradually aided by Gavin Kilkenny and Conor Coventry who occupied the double pivot in midfield. Coventry found Ross Tierney in behind with a great diagonal pass which saw both Tierney and JJ Kayode go down in the box under Swedish challenges, but no penalties were awarded.

Seven minutes before the half-time break, the Boys in Green created their best chance of the half. After some good build-up play at the back, Maher sprung O’Connor beyond the Swedish high press. Will Smallbone received the ball from O’Connor before delivering a wicked cross that Tierney could not get his knee over it and divert the ball home on the half volley from 12 yards.

Ireland started the second period well, O’Connor kept driving forward from the full back position as Elanga failed to track his incessant running.

Will Ferry was introduced for Tierney, and it nearly had the desired impact, as Smallbone set the winger away down the right. The Crawley Town loanee just could not sort out his feet and was blocked by the retreating Swedish defender.

This could well be Sweden head coach Poya Asbaghi’s last game. He is the bookmakers’ favourite to be the next Barnsley boss. Asbaghi realised the problems O’Connor was causing down the right, so he pushed Elanga through the middle and put Paulos Abraham on the right.

However, Ireland continued to cause problems down this flank, Ferry smashed over with just under 10 minutes remaining.

The big chance for the home side finally came in the 82nd minute. Wright had the goal at his mercy following a Coventry effort which deflected into his path, but the Salford City winger mis-hit his effort allowing Brolin scramble across his goal to save.

The Swedes continued to be a threat on the counterattack, Maher came out excellently to snuff out an attack, controlling on the volley before flicking the ball over a Swedish head with supreme confidence.

The Bray Wanderers goalkeeper’s calmness under pressure seemed to spread to his team-mates. Ireland continued to probe for the winner as the clock ticked towards the 90.

Conor Noß thundered an effort from a tight angle which tested the wrists of Brolin as the home crowd grew louder in anticipation of an Irish onslaught.

Substitute Evan Ferguson dragged an effort wide across goal before O'Neill proved the matchwinner with the last kick of the game, sending the crowd of 1,535 into delirium.

The next international window in March for this group of under 21s will be pivotal as Ireland travel to Sweden.

REPUBLIC OF IRELAND: Maher (Bray Wanderers); O'Connor (Tranmere Rovers, on loan from Celtic), McGuinness (Cardiff City), O'Brien (Crystal Palace) Bagan (Cardiff City); Coventry (Peterborough, on loan from West Ham, capt), Kilkenny (AFC Bournemouth), Smallbone (Southampton); Ross Tierney (Bohemians) Tyreik Wright (Salford City, on loan from Aston Villa), Kayode (Rotherham).

Subs: Ferry (Crawley Town on loan from Southampton) for Tierney (68), Ferguson (Brighton and Hove Albion) for Kayode (76), Noß (Borussia Monchengladbach) for Smallbone, O'Neill (Fulham) for Wright both (84).

SWEDEN: Brolin (Mjällby AIF on loan from AIK); Holm (SønderjyskE on loan from Spezia), Ousou (Slavia Prague, capt), Vagic (Rosenborg), Svensson (FC Nordsjælland); B Hussein (AIK), Gustafsson (Kalmar FF); Elanga (Manchester United), Al Hajj (SC Heerenveen), Wålemark (BK Häcken); Sarr (Mjällby AIF, on loan from Malmö FF).

Subs: Abraham (FC Groningen on loan from AIK) for Sarr, Nygren (SC Heerenveen on loan from Genk) for Wålemark both (68), Prica (AaB) for Al Hajj (79), Edvardsson (Jammerbugt FC) for Gustafsson (85).

Referee: Peter Kralovic (Slovakia).

– The Republic of Ireland under-19s are through to the Elite Round of the Uefa European Under-19 Championship qualifiers following their 2-0 win over Bulgaria on Tuesday afternoon.

A Johnny Kenny penalty in the first half and a thunderous strike from Seán Roughlan in the second was enough to see Ireland progress to the next stage of qualification having finished joint top of Group Six, albeit second on goal difference.

The draw for the elite round will be held next year with 23 teams fighting it out for seven places at the main tournament.