Ireland under-21s inspire a different kind of hope with battling display

Ireland under-21s inspire a different kind of hope with battling display

Brave Ireland punished at the death.

Jim Crawford’s team came agonisingly close to a famous win at Turners Cross last night as a 90+6-minute goal from Wilfried Gnonto broke Irish hearts and sealed a 2-2 draw for the Italians. 

It was only two months ago that Aidomo Emakhu also scored a 90+6-minute winner in Cork as Crawfords side beat Turkey 3-2.

Swings and roundabouts as they say.

Italy started the game the better in the first half, gaining control of the match through a technically brilliant midfield three.

Ireland grew into the game, helped by the attacking outlets of Aidomo Emakhu and Sinclair Armstrong who relentlessly ran the channels and terrorised the Italian defence all night long.

The latter, through his tireless work down the left wing, created the first goal of the night as his cut back eventually found Killian Phillips who slotted the ball into the bottom right-hand corner. 

Ireland under-21s draw 2-2 with Italy.

Gnonto, who was Italy’s biggest threat on the night, won a penalty for his side on the stroke of half-time after an unfortunate handball by Bosun Lawal.

The Leeds United man tucked it away and the sides went in level at the break.

Direct, aggressive, pressurised football was clearly an emphasis put on this Irish team by the coaching staff and such a gameplan largely nullified any Italian threat, while putting severe pressure on an Azurri defence who had not conceded in the campaign before they visited Cork. 

Putting testing crosses into the Italian penalty area was also a feature of the night and that’s how Irelands second goal of the night came about as a brilliant cross from Sean Grehan came back off the post before Sinclair Armstrong reacted quickest to put it away.

Jim Crawford’s men handled the second half brilliantly, forcing the Italians to commit endless errors through controlled pressure from the first line of press of Emakhu and Armstrong, through to Phillips, Adeeko and Healy who worked tirelessly to close down passing lanes in the centre of the park.

Although overzealous at times in their direct approach, Ireland made it an extremely difficult second half for Italy while creating chances for themselves at the same time, with Emakhu forcing an excellent save from the Italian keeper heading into the final ten minutes of the game. 

A Trappatoni esque hoof up the pitch would prove to be Irelands undoing, as a missed header from Bosun Lawal allowed Edoardo Bove to unintentionally find Gnonto in the penalty box, and his deflected header fooled Josh Keeley and landed in the Irish net.

A rare error from Lawal on the night who like his fellow centre halves, produced a composed defensive performance against as talented a striking partnership you will see at this level.


Killian Phillips deservedly picked up man of the match in what was an outstanding performance from the former Drogheda United man. 

He was not alone in delivering such a quality performance, with Baba Adeeko, Anselmo Garcia McNulty, Aidomo Emakhu and goal scorer Sinclair Armstrong all impressing with high-intensity showings. 

The result leaves Ireland in a good position in the group after Norway fell to a 2-0 defeat in Turkey earlier in the night. 

Crawford and his team face a trip to San Marino next in March as they will look to start the new year with a win. 

A draw at home to the Italians is certainly a good result in the context of the group, but a win would have been all the more special.

At the end of a difficult year for Irish Football, at least supporters can look forward to seeing more of these young leaders in the future.