The Republic of Ireland Under-17 team recorded an impressive 3-1 victory over Belarus in Wronki, Poland today in the UEFA Under-17 Championships Elite Qualifying Round.
Tom Mohan's side are bidding to secure a place in the finals in May and this victory means that a win over hosts Poland on Thursday should see them through.
Lucan United striker Jamie Aherne grabbed a double and Josh Barrett scored the other as the Irish secured a vital three points against the Belarussians, who had beaten Poland 2-0 on opening day.
Ireland started well with Corey O'Keefe testing keeper Maksim Plotnikov in the 16th minute and the Belarus keeper saved well. Three minutes later Plotnikov made another decent stop to deny Barrett.
In the 24th minute Plotnikov was tested by Trevor Clarke and once again the keeper held firm, but the opener eventually arrived in the 32nd minute when Clarke fired in an excellent cross and Aherne was in the right place to steer home.
Connor Ronan looked to extend that lead three minutes later from a free-kick but Plotnikov was in the right place once again to keep it out. Three minutes later it was Barrett once more that was denied by the keeper.
"It’s a step forward but the big thing to focus on is that nothing has been decided yet so we’re preparing now for our final fixture against Poland" - Tom Mohan
Irish keeper Caoimhin Kelleher was called into action one minute into first half injury-time but he did well to keep out a free-kick from Artur Saramakha.
Ireland stretched their lead two minutes into the second half when Barrett fired home brilliantly from a free-kick after Peter Kazantsev fouled Clarke.
Belarus got back in the game in the 44th minute when Ivan Bakhar bundled the ball over the line after connecting with a cross from the left.
However, the Irish response was immediate with Aherne forcing another save from Plotnikov in the 49th minute. After a long spell of containment Ireland upped the gears late on and Aherne made it 3-1 in the 77th minute to seal the three points. Ronan produced a slide-rule pass for Aherne to race through and keep his composure before finishing.
“We played a lot of good football but Belarus were very direct. They worked very hard and the pitch wasn’t great so we had to lift our game,” explained Mohan.
“Our goalkeeper and back four were excellent, our midfielders did great in attack and defence and our front three were always a threat and scored three good goals.
“We were in control of the game but we conceded a very avoidable goal when 2-0 which gave them a boost when the game should have dead and buried. We played well afterwards and Jamie Aherne wrapped it in brilliantly.
“Everybody worked so hard and kept to their roles really well. It’s a step forward but the big thing to focus on is that nothing has been decided yet so we’re preparing now for our final fixture against Poland.”
Belarus: Plotnikov, Shvetsov, Makushinski (Kabachevski 75), Kuchinski, Kisel, Kazantsev, Belezyak (Savostikov 60), Korzun, Bakhar, Saramakha (Sadovski 41), Kuptsov.
Republic of Ireland: Kelleher, O'Keeffe, Lunney, Hanney, Clarke, Wade-Slater, Leahy, Ronan, Masterson, Barrett (Levingston 61), Aherne.