New-look Republic of Ireland U21s secure timely boost ahead of qualifiers

Jim Crawford’s new-look side struggled for fluidity in the first half, deservedly trailing before turning things around
New-look Republic of Ireland U21s secure timely boost ahead of qualifiers

Jonathan Afolabi of Republic of Ireland scores his side's first goal during the U21 International friendly win over Wales. Picture: David Rawcliffe/Sportsfile

U21 friendly: Wales 1 (Adams 12) Republic of Ireland 2 (Afolabi 76; Boyes OG 78)

Ireland’s U21s came from behind to beat Wales in today’s friendly to record a confidence-boosting victory for their European qualifiers.

Jim Crawford’s new-look side struggled for fluidity in the first half, deservedly trailing at the break from a Joe Adams 12th-minute strike, but Jonathan Afolabi levelled on 76 before an own-goal two minutes later sealed the win.

Crawford handed debuts to 11 players over the course of a game, all of them trying to stake a claim for inclusion when the competitive campaign kicks off in September.

Facing into a strong wind during the first half, Ireland afforded Nathan Huggins too much time on the right flank to deliver a cross which Grimsby Town winger Adams side-footed home beyond Brian Maher from 10 yards.

It took until 57 minutes for the visitors to fashion their first effort on target.

Neat build-up play from Louie Watson saw the Derby County first-teamer threading a pass through for Lee O’Connor, whose scuffed shot was easily saved by Nathan Shepperd.

Ryan Stirk squandered a sitter of a chance to put Wales further ahead on 74 minutes and that miss proved pivotal.

Two minutes later, Borussia Mönchengladbach winger Conor Noss skipped past his marker on the right to reach the endline and his cutback was tapped in by from close-range Celtic striker Afolabi.

Ireland's Jonathan Afolabi celebrates scoring with Conor Noss. Picutre: INPHO/Andrew Dowling
Ireland's Jonathan Afolabi celebrates scoring with Conor Noss. Picutre: INPHO/Andrew Dowling

The comeback was completed 90 seconds later when a stray backpass from Morgan Boyes caught out sub ‘keeper Shepperd off-guard and trickled in off the post.

Afolabi almost extended the lead moments later with a shot that veered wide before he was substituted.

Once in control, Ireland saw out the workout, with Andrew Omobamidele’s header clearing the one dangerous opening Wales conjured to snare an equaliser.

WALES: L Webb (N Shepperd 46); F Stevens, B Sass-Davies, M Boyes, E Jones: R Stirk, T Taylor (C Norton 63); N Huggins, J Adams (R Culwill 81), S Spence (S Pearson 63); L Jephcott.

IRELAND: B Maher; L O’Connor, M McGuinness, A Omobamidele, M O’Malley (G Kilkenny 69); L Connell, L Watson (C Grant 74); A Gilbert (T Wright 69), J Afolabi (E Varian 86), C Noss.

Referee: John Jones (Wales).

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