Ireland women’s team get the job done in Montenegro

The match was played behind closed doors due to concerns over coronavirus

Ireland’s Katie McCabe in action during the win over Montenegro. Photograph: Filip Filipovic/Inpho

Ireland’s Katie McCabe in action during the win over Montenegro. Photograph: Filip Filipovic/Inpho

 

Montenegro 0 Republic of Ireland 3

Vera Pauw admits there’s still areas to improve on for her Republic of Ireland side after they beat Montenegro to top their European Championship qualifying group.

Against the group’s bottom seeds in Petrovac, Ireland once again struggled for fluency after they took an early lead through Diane Caldwell’s 12th minute header.

It wasn’t until the limited hosts lost Darija Djukic to a red card with 25 minutes left that Ireland put the outcome to bed. Captain Katie McCabe and Denise O’Sullivan notched two goals in the last seven minutes to ensure they remain unbeaten after five qualifiers on 13 points.

With the fixtures against the bottom pair of seeds now complete, Ireland face their toughest three games in the run-in. Powerhouses Germany are next up on April 11th, a game likely to be played behind closed doors, before they travel to Ukraine on June 5th before concluding at home to the top seeds in September.

“We’re very much on track for qualification,” said Pauw, whose side will claim at least a play-off for next year’s England-hosted finals if Ukraine drop any points in their next five qualifiers. Montenegro made it tough for us today. The pitch is very narrow and they packed all their players behind the ball.

“However, our strategy from training of moving the ball didn’t translate into the pitch. There were too many mistakes in possession. Composure is so important at the elite level of international football and we need to get better in that area.”

Pauw made two changes to the side that beat Greece, one enforced due to the hamstring injury picked up by Heather Payne. Her spot in attack was occupied by Clare Shine, whose first competitive start at the age of 24 has been belated but welcome. The other new face came in goal, where American-born Courtney Brosnan from West Ham United got the nod ahead of Marie Hourihan. Elsewhere, the changes were tactical as Ireland sought to take the initiative early on.

Switching to three central defenders, Harriet Scott moved inside from right-back while the other full-back, Áine O’Gorman, lined up on the opposite side of the pitch as a right wing-back.

In the build-up to the fixture, Pauw noted that Montenegro generally struggled to emerge from their own half but an error inside the first minute almost gifted them a shock lead. Caldwell was far too casual with her infield pass, allowing the home side gain possession. Fortunately for Caldwell and Ireland, Jelena Karflcic scuffed her shot to provide Brosnan with an early routine save. It wouldn’t be the only time Ireland were caught square.

Once more, after 10 minutes, their high line was exposed when Armisa Kuc managed to slip in behind the defence and race clear only to drag her low shot wide of the far post. By then, Ireland were also finding some spaces without testing Ivana Cabarkapa in the home goal. Shine was unable to apply a proper connection when found inside the box by McCabe’s cross.

Set-pieces were beginning to threaten the hosts, with Rianna Jarrett heading over from a corner. Montenegro were then unlocked for the breakthrough on 12 minutes. Louise Quinn’s header went across goal from McCabe’s free-kick, allowing Caldwell to power home. It was a carbon copy of the only goal from the win over Greece.

But instead of using that lead as a platform, Ireland seemed to lose their way, with their final touch more often than not proving their downfall.

Montenegro were in disarray - requiring defender Maja Saranovic to take their kick-outs - but they still managed to create a decent chance through Kuc on the half hour. As the interval approached, Shine rippled the side-netting with a drive before O’Sullivan saw her volley from the edge of the box clip the inside of the post and rebound into Cabarkapa’s hands.

That trend continued straight after the restart as McCabe’s cross had just too much weight for Shine to connect with. On 50 minutes, Shine’s lay-off from another McCabe cross fell six yards out to Jarrett whose effort was hacked off the line by Saranovic.

The dismissal of Djukic on 65 minutes for a second booking created more gaps to exploit and after Quinn volleyed wide on the stretch the game was finally put beyond the brave Balkans.

Firstly, McCabe’s free-kick with seven minutes remaining zipped past the wall into the far corner beyond the unsighted Cabarkapa. O’Sullivan had been fouled for that free and she nestled the third herself two minutes later by sinking a lay-off by Jarrett into the roof of the net.

MONTENEGRO: I Cabarkapa; A Popovic, M Saranovic, H Bozic, D Djukic; S Bulatovic; A Kuc (J Vujadinovic 88), J Karflcic, J Djokovic, N Stanovic (A Toskovic 73); M Desic.

REP OF IRELAND: C Brosnan; D Caldwell, L Quinn, H Scott; A O’Gorman, N Fahey, D O’Sullivan; R Littlejohn, K McCabe; R Jarrett (A Barrett 88), C Shine (K Carusa 58).

Referee: Maria Marotta (Italy)

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