Ireland Under-21s strike very late to beat Azerbaijan
Shaun Donnellan scores in injury time as group leaders Germany held in Kosovo
Ireland’s Declan Rice celebrates Shaun Donnellan’s late winner. Photograph: Oisin Keniry/Inpho
Republic of Ireland 1 Azerbaijan 0
An awful lot of late pressure eventually paid off for the Irish under-21s in Tallaght where the persistence of Noel King’s side was rewarded in the ninth minute of added when Shaun Donnellan scored to give them victory over Azerbaijan.
Donnellan’s close range effort was the end product of the last in a long line of Ryan Manning frees that the visitors had generally defended with admirable determination. With the final whistle imminent, though, the Irish edged things in a densely packed six yard box with the defender forcing the ball over after Ronan Hale’s initial header had come back off the left hand post and the celebrations had already started by the time Ryan Sweeney followed up for a bit of insurance.
The incentive for Ireland to win was increased as the game kicked off and word fed through from Kosovo that the home side there had held group leaders Germany. The combined results mean Ireland move to within three points of top spot with a game in hand with Stefan Kuntz’s side still to come twice in the autumn.
If the result between their rivals stiffened the home side’s resolve to win here, though, it took a quite while to shine through. The home side had the better of it in terms of possession but it was the tail-end of the first half before they really started to threaten in any meaningful way.
In midfield both Declan Rice and his West Ham team-mate Josh Cullen stood out for their composure and passing but with very little penetration and Azerbaijan looked happy to sit tight and get bodies behind the ball until the occasional chance came to break.
Manning finally tested their goalkeeper Kamran Ibrahimov with a low shot from distance just before the break and the hosts returned from it looking as though they had a little more edge to their attacking game. Jake Mulraney had what looked a half decent claim for a penalty waved away by the Slovakian referee and Manning then forced Ibrahimov into a decent save with a curling free from 25 yards.
It was solid though not entirely inspiring stuff from the home side against opponents who looked capable enough themselves on the break. Manning certainly had a bit of intent about him whenever he was on or even around the ball and his set pieces always looked the a likely source of an Irish goal.
The edge that crept into things as the game’s end approached helped to liven things up and the home side’s sense of urgency certainly grew but still they struggled to create clear cut chances. Ibrahimov’s closest call probably came with just over 10 minutes remaining when Corey Whelan and Olamide Shodipo linked up well down the right before Rice took a neat first touch then sent a curling shot just over.
Having been booked for hurling himself into an aerial challenge without much regard for his opponent, Manning might have been sent off for going down a little too easily in the area under pressure from Mustafazade and there another let off of sorts for the hosts late on as the visitors broke and Ilkin Muradov clattered the crossbar from 25 metres with Kieran O’Hara looking to be beaten.
At that precise moment, they looked just a little lucky to still have their point but they kept on pressing and ultimately deserved the other two.
Republic of Ireland: O’Hara Manchester United); Whelan (Liverpool/Yeovil Town), Donnellan (Yeovil Town), Sweeney Stoke City/Bristol Rovers), Kane (Cork City); Mulraney (Inverness CT), Rice (West Ham), Cullen (West Ham); Manning (QPR), Grego-Cox (Woking), Curtis (Derry City). Subs: Shodipo (QPR/Colchester United) for Mulraney (56 mins), Ronan Hale (Derry City) for Kane (82 mins), Quigley (Bournemouth/Boreham Wood) for Curtis (89 mins).
Azerbaijan: Ibrahimov; Tashgin, Sarkarov, Mustafazade, Krivotsyuk; Madatov, Hajiyev, Aliyev, Koekcue; Nasirov; Sheydaev. Subs: Shahverdiyev for Koekcue (58 mins), Muradov for Nasirov (65 mins), Buludov for Sheydaev (86 mins).
Referee: F Glova (Slovakia)