With the routine qualifiers out of the way, Ireland manager Vera Pauw admits the real tests for reaching next year’s European Championships loom over the next six months.
Diane Caldwell’s second goal in successive games gave Ireland an early lead but it wasn’t until the limited hosts lost Darija Djukic to a red card with 25 minutes left that they put the outcome to bed.
Captain Katie McCabe and Denise O’Sullivan notched two goals in the last seven minutes to ensure they remain unbeaten after five qualifiers on 13 points.
Powerhouses Germany are next up in Munster on April 11, a game likely to be played behind closed doors, before they travel to Ukraine on June 5, and conclude at home to the top seeds in September.
One point from nine will suffice for Ireland to guarantee second spot, and a play-off at a minimum, but the pressure is on second seeds Ukraine.
Only a clean sweep of five victories, including the home game against Ireland, can rescue their ambitions. It is widely accepted that Germany will canter to the only automatic place on offer.
“We’re very much on track for qualification,” declared Pauw about her first campaign at the helm.
“Montenegro made it tough for us today. The pitch here in Petrovac was very narrow and they packed all their players behind the ball.
However, our strategy from training of moving the ball didn’t translate into the pitch. There were too many mistakes in possession. Composure is so important at the elite level of international football and we need to get better in that area.
It can hardly be forgotten that Ireland’s last campaign perished on the run-in. Three defeats, home and away against Norway and to the Netherlands at Tallaght, cost them a top-two place in their World Cup qualifying group.
The difference this time around is the vital 3-2 victory earned against Ukraine last October. Another factor in their favour in the sequence of fixtures, their fast start applying the pressure on Ukraine, who must avoid defeat in Montenegro next month to retain their remote hopes.
It will be curious to see if Pauw maintains the adventurous approach in the final lap.
Switching to three central defenders yesterday, Harriet Scott moved inside from right-back while the other full-back, Áine O’Gorman, lined up on the opposite side of the pitch as a right wing-back.
Within the first 60 seconds, Caldwell sacrificed possession, allowing Jelena Karflcic to be released through the centre.
Fortunately, the attacker scuffed her shot to provide goalkeeper Courtney Brosnan with an easy save on her debut.
It wouldn’t be the only time Ireland were caught square.
Once more, after 10 minutes, their high line was exposed when Armisa Kuc managed to slip in behind the defence and race clear only to drag her low shot wide of the far post.
By then, Ireland were also finding some spaces without testing Ivana Cabarkapa in the home goal.
Set-pieces were beginning to threaten the hosts, with Rianna Jarrett heading over from a corner.
They were then unlocked for the breakthrough on 12 minutes, barely contesting Louise Quinn’s header across goal from McCabe’s free for Caldwell to power home. It was a carbon copy of the only goal from the win over Greece.
Instead of using that lead as a platform, Ireland seemed to lose their way, with the final touch more often than not proving their downfall.
As the interval approached, Clare Shine rippled the side-netting before O’Sullivan saw her volley from the edge of the box clip the inside of the post and rebound into Cabarkapa’s hands.
On 50 minutes, Shine’s lay-off from another McCabe cross fell six yards out to Rianna Jarrett whose shot was hacked off the line by Saranovic.
Ruesha Littlejohn should have did better with a free-kick on the edge of the box which was deflected over.
The dismissal of Djukic on 65 minutes for a second booking created more gaps to exploit and after, Quinn volleyed wide on the stretch, the game was put beyond the brave Balkan warriors.
Firstly, McCabe’s free-kick with seven minutes remaining zipped past the wall into the far corner past the unsighted Cabarkapa.
O’Sullivan had been fouled for that free and she nestled the third herself two minutes later by sinking a lay-off by Jarrett into the roof of the net.
I Cabarkapa; A Popovic, M Saranovic, H Bozic, D Djukic; S Bulatovic; A Kuc (J Vujadinovic 88), J Karflcic, J Djokovic, N Stanovic (A Toskovic 73); M Desic.
C Brosnan; D Caldwell, L Quinn, H Scott; A O’Gorman, N Fahey, D O’Sullivan; R Littlejohn, K McCabe; R Jarrett (A Barrett 88), C Shine (K Carusa 58).
Maria Marotta (Italy)