Smallbone and Odubeko inspire Ireland U21s to victory over Bosnia and Herzegovina
Ireland’s Under-21s took a big step towards a first European Championships as a brace from Will Smallbone either side of Mipo Odubeko’s devastating finish put Bosnia and Herzegovina to the sword.
t’s now three consecutive wins for Jim Crawford’s side, who are hitting their best form when it matters most.
Ireland now move to within a point of Sweden with a game in hand. They came into the game knowing that two wins from the home double-header would likely seal second in the group and a play-off spot.
With four games left to play, the visit of Montenegro on Monday is a must-win as Crawford’s side seek qualification for the finals in Romania and Georgiain 2023.
There is no doubt that Stephen Kenny would have been keeping an eye on the action from Armenia. Lee O’Connor, Brian Maher and Conor Coventry have previously had experience in senior camps, and several of the current U-21s are tipped to make the step-up soon.
It was the visitors who started the game brighter, with Joel Bagan and Oisín McEntee both making important blocks in the opening ten minutes. Ireland held their breath for a moment as Amar Memić was found unmarked at the back post, but his tame header sailed wide.
Despite being slow out of the blocks, Ireland, wearing their orange away shirt, took the lead on 16 minutes. Mipo Odubeko brilliantly flicked the ball onto Smallbone, who outpaced Nenad Nikić before driving it through the legs of Luka Damijanović to put Ireland ahead.
It was the Southampton midfielder’s first Ireland U-21 goal and settled the nerves early on, in front of over 3,000 at Tallaght Stadium.
Ivan Basić’s powerful free kick failed to trouble Brian Maher, standing behind an Ireland defence who were holding their own after the opener. Like the senior side, the U-21s proved that they were comfortable playing out from the back and through the lines.
Bosnia and Herzegovina struggled to get in behind Ireland’s compact back line, with Mark McGuinness and McEntee in full control.
On the half hour mark, Bagan was released on the left flank and whipped the ball across the face of goal. It briefly looked like Ireland would grab another, but the visitors scrambled and cleared to safety.
A miscommunication between Maher and McEntee almost allowed Aleksandar Kahvić to level the game just before the break. The striker went one-on-one but Maher stood strong to save.
After the break, Odubeko glided around two white shirts before seeing his powerful effort blocked. Basić sent two shots high over Maher’s bar as the visitors went up a gear.
Lee O’Connor spectacularly cleared Igor Savić’s header off the line, before Maher’s expert save denied Jasmin Osmić an impressive equaliser.
After the period of intense pressure, Ireland emerged unscathed and doubled their lead on the hour mark. Ross Tierney collected the ball and played Odubeko through, who coolly slotted his first goal of the campaign.
Ireland were comfortable for the remainder of the game but chose not to shut up shop, displaying the ambitious mindset of this group of players.
Tyreik Wright’s threatening cross was met at the back post by Smallbone, who smashed in his second ten minutes from time before collecting man-of-the-match. History remains firmly in Ireland’s hands.
Ireland: Maher; O’Connor, McEntee (O’Brien 53’), McGuinness, Bagan; Coventry, Kilkenny (Devoy 78’), Wright; Smallbone, Odubeko (Ferguson 64’) Tierney (O’Neill 64).
Bosnia & Herzegovina: Damijanović; Dejanović (Mešinović), Muharemovic, Marjanović, Nikić; Savić, Sućić (Popara 72’), Bašić; Osmić, Kahvić (Lukić 45’), Memić.
Referee: L Cibelli (Switzerland)