Late Clifford strike gives Ireland victory

SEÁN MCCAFFREY’S Irish U19 side yesterday qualified for the elite qualifying phase of the UEFA Championship’s but they were made to work hard for the victory against a very defensive Liechtenstein team with Chelsea’s Conor Clifford’s strike in the 84th minute proving to be the difference between the two teams.

Despite playing against the wind in the first half, the Irish started the game the much stronger of the two teams and McCaffrey’s men attacked in numbers early on and were nearly rewarded after two minutes when defender, Gavin Gunning’s powerful free-kick from the edge of the box was saved by Tichy in Liechtenstein’s goal.

Liechtenstein came close after 18 minutes when defender, Kaufmann blasted a free-kick from 25 yards but Ger Hanley in Ireland’s goal saved comfortably.

The Irish had a handful of opportunities to open the scoring before the break as Bohemian’s Paddy Madden headed just wide, while two Gavin Gunning efforts went agonisingly wide.

The Irish resumed the second half with the strong wind at their backs and dominated proceedings from the start, creating numerous chances but they lacked the killer instinct in front of goal.

McCaffrey’s men came very close to opening the scoring in the 57th minute when Gavin Gunning flicked the ball on to Paul Murphy, whose header was cleared off the line.

Substitute, Aaron Doran made an instant impact after his introduction at half-time and he was unlucky not to score after 64 minutes when his shot hit the post.

With the Irish now controlling the game in the final third of the pitch, chances were plentiful and Conor Clifford could not believe his luck when his powerful effort from 20 yards hit the bar, while substitute James Collins pounced on a rebound in the box only to shoot into the side-netting.

Ireland finally made the breakthrough in the 84th minute when Histon defender, Lanre Oyebanjo launched one of his trademark long throws into the penalty area and Clifford was on hand to blast home from six yards.

Ireland had a late scare when Galway United keeper Ger Hanley was forced to save from Sele Mathias and Gur Olcay in the 86th and 87th minutes respectively. However, Ipswich Town’s Paul Murphy thought he had doubled Ireland’s advantage in the final minute when his audacious effort from 25 yards rebounded off the crossbar into the arms of Liechtenstein keeper Tichy Mario.

The game ended negatively for McCaffrey’s men as James Collins, who was making his debut, was shown a second yellow by referee, Veaceslav Banari, after he ran onto a pass from Paul Murphy and slotted home from six yards. The referee adjudged that Collins was offside and booked him for kicking the ball into the net.

The Irish now face France in their final UEFA Championship, first phase qualifier on Wednesday next, having already secured their passage to the elite qualifying phase which takes place early next year.

REPUBLIC OF IRELAND: G Hanley (Galway United); L Oyebanjo (Histon); G Gunning (Blackburn); D Kelly (Norwich City); N McArdle (Sunderland); C Clifford (Chelsea); J Devitt (Hull City); G Morrissey (Blackburn); I Daly (Manchester City); P Madden (Bohemians); P Murphy (Ipswich.

Subs: K Thorp (Crystal Palace); S O’Connor (Liverpool 76 mins); A Doran (Blackburn, 45 mins); James Collins (Aston Villa, 45 mins); R Towell (Celtic); M Connolly (Wolves); D McCrory (Plymouth).

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