Kenny proud as new-look Ireland U21s eventually make dominance count in Armenia

Kenny proud as new-look Ireland U21s eventually make dominance count in Armenia
Zach Elbouzedi celebrates after scoring the winner at the FFA Academy Stadium in Yerevan. Photo by Harry Murphy/Sportsfile

Armenia U-21 0 - 1 Ireland U-21

After missing two earlier chances, Zack Elbouzedi was relieved to be Ireland’s matchwinner in Armenia to keep their Euro U21 qualification journey on track.

Stephen Kenny’s squad are four points clear at the top of their Euro qualifying group heading into Tuesday’s tussle with Sweden at Tallaght Stadium.

Even if top seeds Italy beat Iceland tomorrow, Ireland will remain at the summit and retain control of their own destiny.

Ireland's frustrations during the opening hour today showed why the Italians toiled to a slender 1-0 victory at the same deserted Yerevan venue a month ago.

“It’s difficult to play in the middle of a cold afternoon in front of no crowd,” noted Kenny afterwards.

The minnows congest midfield to frustrate their opposition in the hope of springing a surprise on the counter.

That tactic only worked once and it came after Elbouzedi had blasted the young guns into a 62nd-minute lead.

The Dubliner, currently attracting interest from Dundalk and Shamrock Rovers following a season at Waterford, finished off a flowing move. He was left unmarked at the back post after Connor Ronan displayed his instincts to dummy a sharp low cross from the right by Adam Idah. Elbouzedi took one touch before lifting the ball over Sevak Aslanyan from 10 yards.

Approaching the interval, Elbouzedi had forced Aslanyan to bat away his effort for a corner with a one-handed save. Just before his breakthrough goal, he squandered a chance by allowing the defender recover to clear the danger.

Once Idah missed a sitter to double the lead immediately after the opener, Armenia sensed a way back.

Dara O’Shea was uncharacteristically caught out by the run of Karen Melkonyan – and tripped him just as the winger looked like slotting away the equaliser.

Ireland’s stand-in skipper paid the price with a red card and a suspension for the Sweden showdown.

Elbouzedi was just glad his one goal was required to notch up Ireland’s fourth victory from six qualifiers.

“We could have been out of sight in first half,” he admitted.

“I had a few chances to score before my goal but it was brilliant work by Adam and Connor to create the chance.

“We’d seen from videos of Armenia’s previous games that we could get at their full-back.

“I had got the better of him in the early exchanges and decided to have another go with the chance before half-time.

“We needed this win after such a disappointing set-back in losing to Iceland last month. There’s a lot of quality at this age-level, which we could see by the amount of new players, and we’ll take it on to Sweden on Tuesday.”

Elbouzedi wasn’t alone in wasting opportunities, as Jason Knight screwed his shot wide and Nathan Collins failed to trouble the goalkeeper from a close-range effort.

Conceding an equaliser would have been unjust and Kenny was swift to praise his newcomers.

“Between goalkeeper Gavin Bazunu and three of the back-four, we had four debutants starting,” said Kenny, who capped a fifth through Aidan Keena’s late substitute cameo.

“They all did fantastically well against a side difficult to break down.

“Armenia couldn’t cope with our high-pressing game.

“Our only problem was not putting chances away in the first half but Zack finished his well.”

Despite O’Shea’s ban, captain Jayson Molumby will return from suspension for Tuesday. The availability of Troy Parrott and Lee O’Connor, however, will be down to Mick McCarthy.

The pair could yet be involved in the decisive senior Euro qualifier against Denmark 24 hours earlier.

Kenny said: “We'll have to see what happens over the next few days. All the new players did really well and we’ll see over the next few days what squad we’ll have for Tuesday.”

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).

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)

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