Yesterday’s defeat in Koper was Ireland’s fourth in a row and renders their remaining three games academic for the purposes of qualification.
Noel King’s side required victory but it never seemed likely once they fell behind after just 14 minutes to a Slovenian side firmly in the mix to reach Poland next year.
A second from a harshly awarded penalty early in the second half deepened the task and, despite Callum O’Dowda cutting the deficit, Slovenia grabbed a deserved third.
In fact, only for a string of saves by Manchester City goalkeeper, the margin might easily have matched Italy’s 4-1 triumph over the Irish on Thursday.
Senior manager O’Neill posted a gloomy forecast for this crop of players after watching the Italian job and won’t be heartened by this latest display.
“Overall it wasn’t a good enough performance and disappointing result,” said King afterwards, admitting their Euro tilt is all but over.
“We will see how the other games in the group pan out in the coming weeks before looking at bringing in the next age group for our remaining games.
“We have some very talented young players coming through and they will get their chances.”
Most of the current intake have blown the many chances afforded to them. A basic lack of concentration was the root cause of the Slovenia opener, as skipper and full international Luka Krajnc eluded his marker, Conor Wilkinson, at the back post to steer Miha Zajc’s corner home from close-range.
Sean Maguire, on as a substitute for the injured Wilkinson before the break, had Ireland’s best chance of equalising. However, he couldn’t get enough power on his header from Sean Long’s right-wing cross to trouble Grega Sorcan.
Ten minutes after the restart, Reading full-back Long was adjudged to have fouled Ziga Kastrevec inside the box, allowing Gregor Bajde to convert the resultant penalty low into the bottom left corner despite Ian Lawlor diving the right way.
Although O’Dowda, Ireland’s best player on the night, reduced the arrears on 65 minutes with a shot from the edge of the box which squirmed through the hands of goalkeeper Grega Sorcan, the two-goal cushion was restored when Zajc dipped his free-kick over the wall and beyond Lawlor.
“The big frustration is to have conceded from three dead-ball situations,” said King.
“The penalty was extremely harsh and became the turning point in the game.”
G Sorcan; D Sme, L Ejup, L Krajnc; A Krefl, N Kapun, Z Benedicic (L Stulac 46), D Crnigoj; M Zajc, G Bajde (L Zahovic 78), Z Kastrevec (D Hotic 56).
I Lawlor; S Long, S Hoare, N Keown, S Griffin (D Connolly 61); D Lenihan, C Dimaio; C O’Dowda (J Barrett 75), J Byrne, J Connors, C Wilkinson (S Maguire 39).
A Treimanis (LVA).