Armenia Under-21 0-1 Republic of Ireland Under-21
The Republic of Ireland Under-21s got back to winning ways in their European Championship qualifying group by beating resolute Armenia this afternoon thanks to Zack Elbouzedi's second-half winner.
Stephen Kenny’s side were full value for the three points in Yerevan but will go into Tuesday’s game against second seeds Sweden without Dara O’Shea. The stand-in captain was red-carded with 15 minutes left for a professional foul.
The win puts Ireland four points clear at the summit, with four of their qualifiers remaining. Top spot would send Ireland to a first-ever major tournament in 2021, with second guaranteeing a play-off.
As promised, Kenny handed a quartet of new players their debuts, all of them part of a new-look back five.
Jason Knight also got his first start of the campaign as a replacement for suspended captain, while Gavin Kilkenny got the nod over Mandroiu as one of three supports for lone striker Idah.
Ireland’s two new full-backs, Danny McNamara and Thomas O’Connor, were both involved in the early exchanges as the hosts were content to cede space and rely on the counter-attack.
Left-full O’Connor was also delegated set-piece duties and he displayed his threat after only 10 minutes which a free-kick which was deflected out.
The aerial ability of Idah and Nathan Collins were causing problems too, with the latter being unfairly penalised for a foul on Albert Khachumyan from one of O’Connor’s corners.
Ireland’s best method of breaching the home side, however, was through the channels and some good interplay by Elbouzedi and Ronan down the left released Jason Knight on 32 minutes. The Derby County midfielder darted into the box but stroked his shot wide.
Sharper passing by Ireland was exposing gaps in the Armenian defence. Elbouzedi was next to threaten, drifting into the penalty area from the left and forcing Sevak Aslanyan to bat away his effort for a corner with a one-handed save.
On the stroke of half-time, Idah was denied a shot on goal by a last-ditch challenge from Hrachya Geghamy.
Dominant in possession but lacking a cutting edge, Kenny kept encouraging his side to stretch the static defence early in the second half.
Elbouzedi continued to prove a menace down the flank, seeing his cross deflected out for a corner. When set up by Idah’s centre, the winger couldn’t get control of the ball properly to get a shot off.
Knight was harshly booked for simulation as the Armenians continued to frustrate the visitors.
A breakthrough seemed inevitable and another surge into the channels, this time down the right, forced it on 62 minutes.
Idah was again involved, fizzing in a cross from the right that Connor Ronan dummied to set up the unmarked Elbouzedi. He needed just one touch before burying the loose ball past the advancing goalkeeper.
When Idah shot straight at the goalkeeper three minutes later, Armenia were thankful to be still in the tie.
They finally showed some invention and it cost Ireland on 75 minutes when Karen Melkonyan darted in behind the Irish defence. The retreating O’Shea appeared to have his feet tangled with the winger, prompting referee to Antti Munukka issue a red card.
The Irish wall did its job by blocking Vahan Bichakhchyan’s resultant free-kick from 20 yards.
Bichakhchyan fashioned another couple of shots in the dying stages which flew off-target but Ireland got a let-off when Hrachya Geghamy headed over from six yards in the final minute.
Armenia: S Aslanyan; H Geghamy, H Nazaryan, A Khachumyan, E Grigoryan; K Melkonyan, H Harutyunyan (A Khamoyan 65), V Bichakhchyan, R Mkrtchyan, A Nahapetyan (A Portugalyan 57); A Haovhannisyan (E Movsesyan 77).
Republic of Ireland: G Bazunu (Manchester City); D McNamara (Newport County), D O'Shea (West Bromwich Albion), N Collins (Stoke City), T O’Connor (Gillingham); J Knight (Derby County), C Coventry (West Ham United); Z Elbouzedi (Waterford), C Ronan (DAC Dunajská Streda), Gavin Kilkenny (Bournemouth); A Idah (Norwich City)
Subs: L Scales (UCD) for Ronan (77 mins), J Taylor (Brentford) for Kilkenny (81 mins), A Keena (Hearts) for Idah (86).
Referee: Antti Munukka (FIN)