Stephen Kenny hit out at Moldovan referee Dumitri Muntean for his role in ending Ireland’s unbeaten U21 Euro qualifying run.
The Boys in Green remain top of their group, but today's defeat to Iceland is a major setback to the ambitions of reaching the 2021 finals automatically. Played on an artificial pitch at the Viking Arena, Kenny admitted the windy conditions in a stadium with three open sides saw the game descend into farce.
To add to his woe, the game was settled on a controversial decision after 29 minutes. The referee pointed to the spot for a handball against Lee O’Connor after Alex Hauksson’s shot was blocked.
Television replays showed that the effort struck his back rather than arm. Svein Aron Gudjohnson, son of former Chelsea striker Eidur, sent Caoimhin Kelleher the wrong way from the spot.
Muntean’s booking of the Celtic defender for the incident was compounded by another: A second yellow issued with a minute left. O’Connor is joined on the suspended list for next month’s trip to Armenia by Jayson Molumby after Ireland’s captain incurred a booking following a skirmish at the final whistle.
It completed a frustrating afternoon for Ireland who failed to spark in front of goal. Adam Idah’s header, which looped onto the roof of the net approaching the break, was their best chance to equalise.
“It feels harsh to lose the match on a penalty that wasn’t a penalty,” said Kenny afterwards.
Lee was going to block the shot and it hit his back. Then the referee books him. We feel very disappointed to lose the match on that decision.
The subdued atmosphere at the Reykjavik venue was the opposite to the packed Tallaght Stadium last Thursday. Ireland followed up three victories by holding top seeds Italy scoreless before a record crowd of 7,231.
Kenny admits the contrast was a leveller for his high-flying team.
“It was a surreal international,” he said. “We’ve gone from the Italy game to having 40 people watching this match. A lot of the players wouldn’t have experienced anything like today. The match was played in a wind-tunnel and space was at a premium.
“When it’s on a good pitch, like our meetings against Sweden and Italy, the game is based around who can win the game on skill and quality.
“This match became a farce, needing other qualities from our players. We showed some of those qualities but Iceland got everyone behind the ball once they scored. The margins are very narrow at this level.”
ICELAND: P Gunnarsson; A Sampsted, A Leifsson, H Gunnarsson; A Hauksson; K Finnsson, I Olafsson, J Pordarson (D Hafsteinsson 77), J Porsteinsson, W Willumsson; S Gudjohnson (V Ingiumundarson 77).
IRELAND: C Kelleher; L O’Connor, D O’Shea, C Masterson, K Ledwidge; J Molumby, C Coventry; Z Elbouzedi, D Mandroiu (A Drinan 86), M Obafemi (G Kilkenny 75); A Idah.
Referee: Dumitri Muntean (MDA).