Republic of Ireland 2-0 Montenegro
Ireland's UEFA Women's EURO 2021 qualification campaign began on a positive note as Tom O’Connor’s side beat Montenegro at Tallaght Stadium.
Tyler Toland opened the scoring after seven minutes with a strike from distance, but a frustrated home side were not able to turn possession into goal-scoring opportunities for the remainder of the first half.
Ireland continued to dominate in the second period and their pressure paid off as Katie McCabe converted from the spot to seal the points.
Before a ball had been kicked in Ireland's campaign, group favourites Germany had laid down a very telling marker for any team who felt they could challenge for the automatic qualifying spot from Group I.
As Ireland kicked off on the rain-soaked Tallaght pitch, the Germans had completed their second outing of the group with maximum points achieved, 18 goals scored and zero conceded.
The Germans had put ten past Montenegro, so confidence would have been high in the Irish camp heading into this one and it took less than seven minutes to break the deadlock as Toland hit a fine strike from distance that smashed off the inside of the post and flew into the back of the net.
Claire O’Riordan should have doubled the lead two minutes later but her downward header from a corner was saved by Ivana Cabarkapa.
By that stage, Ireland were bossing the play, entrenched inside the visitors’ half; Toland sitting in midfield, directing the play, while McCabe and Denise O’Sullivan were both looking to get on the ball at every opportunity.
Perhaps a little more composure was needed in the final third, if there was to be any criticism mid-way through the first half, as Ireland really should have been out of sight by the 25th minute such was their dominance.
But the visitors continued to frustrate with their blanket defence tactics as they sat in with 11 players behind the ball throughout the first period.
Montenegro must be credited for keeping good shape behind the ball, while captain Sladjana Bulatovic looked calm and composed in midfield, and Nadja Stanovic's energy was keeping the Irish defence on their toes as they tried to build from the back.
But for all their possession, Ireland never looked like scoring throughout the second half of the first 45 as McCabe’s long-range free-kick, which dipped a bit too late and sailed over, was about their only real effort of note on the visitors’ goal.
A minute was added on at the end of the first half and the hosts finally put pressure on the goal as Rianna Jarrett’s header from a corner found Louise Quinn at the back post, but the big Arsenal defender was unable to turn the ball home.
Tatjana Djurkovic needed urgent medical attention after the half-time whistle had been blown, apparently unable to catch her breath following a challenge in the penalty box, where she appeared to get struck on the neck. The centre-half appeared fine as she left the pitch and returned after the break.
Ireland started the second half with real intent, pushed on by substitute Heather Payne, high up the right flank.
Then Toland was presented with the easiest of chances from no more than ten yards out following good work in the box by Jarrett and O’Sullivan, but somehow the Manchester City midfielder blasted her shot over the bar.
But again Ireland lacked real creativity in and around the Montenegro penalty box and were relying on hopeful balls into the box.
Quinn did manage a header on target from one such delivery but the keeper was barely tested.
But Ireland’s dominance would naturally lead to increased pressure in the penalty box, and the home side were awarded a penalty in the 68th minute - Jadranka Pavicevic handled the ball as O’Sullivan skipped past her in the box.
McCabe would make no mistake from the spot, stroking the ball into the left corner of the net.
Ireland looked to bolster their goal difference in the final 20 minutes but also had to be alert, as Montenegro finally decided to push forward and keeper Marie Hourihan was finally called into action from a decent Bulatovic effort in the 73rd minute.
McCabe and Jarrett both tested the keeper in the 75th minute, and a good move down the right flank nine minutes later almost produced a third, but McCabe could not turn the ball home at the near post.
Ireland’s last chance of note came from a Quinn downward header at the back post as the keeper just did enough to claw it away.
The third goal never arrived but the three points were secured and even if the goal difference column may be lacking following the game against the very average Montenegro side, Ireland are off the mark in their quest to qualify for the England-hosted tournament.
Ireland: Marie Hourihan; Claire O’Riordan (Heather Payne HT), Diane Caldwell (Claire Walsh 76), Louise Quinn, Harriet Scott; Tyler Toland, Niamh Fahey (Megan Connolly 81), Katie McCabe, Jessica Gargan; Rianna Jarrett, Denise O’Sullivan
Montenegro: Ivana Cabarkapa; Aleksandra Popovic, Maja Saranovic, Tatjana Djurkovic, Darija Djukic; Dzenita Ramcilovic, Sladjana Bulatovic (capt), Jadranka Pavicevic; Nadja Stanovic (Jelena Vujadinovic 90), Armisa Kuc (Tamara Bojat 82), Jasna Djokovic (Jelena Karflcic 64)
Referee: Catarina Isabel Ferreira Campos