The Republic of Ireland U21s have made an impressive start to 2023 as despite playing with 10 men for over an hour, they came from behind to defeat Iceland 2-1 in their friendly at a packed Turner’s Cross on Sunday.
Just over 6,000 were in attendance to see superb finishes from debutants Tom Cannon and Johnny Kenny to earn Jim Crawford’s side a confidence-boosting victory on Leeside.
The capacity crowd couldn’t complain about a lack of entertainment from a first half that produced two goals, one disallowed goal and one of the harshest red cards you are ever likely to see in a non-competitive fixture.
Both the goals that stood were worth the entrance fees on their own and it was the men from Iceland who struck first against the run of play just shy of the quarter of an hour mark.
Isak Andri Sigurgeirsson skipped past his marker just to the left of the penalty area and his clever pullback picked out Kristall Mani Ingason – capped four times at senior level – who made no mistake, opening up his body and expertly side-footing the ball into the far top right corner.
The Rosenborg winger thought he had doubled his and his side’s tally midway through the first half when he again brilliantly curled Sigurgeirsson’s layoff into the far top corner – this time the left rather than the right – but on this occasion his dance in front of the Shed was cut short as the linesman flagged for offside.
Ireland made the most of that hint of good fortune from the officials as they levelled the scores almost two minutes later thanks to Tom Cannon.
The striker has been in good goal-scoring form recently for Preston North End, where he is currently plying his trade on loan from Everton, and he continued that in front of the St Anne’s End as he raced in behind the defence before squirming the ball just under the keeper’s outstretched foot.
But the young boys in green were dealt a huge blow on 28 minutes when the lively Festy Ebosele was sent off.
The Udinese winger was initially unhappy with the referee for halting his run clear on goal after he spotted the slightest of contacts from the pacy attacker on the last Iceland defender.
Ebosele seemed to be booked for expressing his grievance with the decision and he was quickly shown a second yellow card after he expressed his grievance with the caution.
“We want a new ref!” sang a group of young supporters behind the goal. It was the paying public who were punished the most as it all but ended the match as a spectacle and a proper test for both sets of players.
Both sides had a chance at the beginning of a quiet second period, but their respective goalkeepers were equal to the tame efforts.
The home side almost edged in front in the 71st minute when Iceland’s substitute shot-stopper – albeit he was wearing the number one jersey – stretched to turn Anselmo Garcia Mac Nulty’s header around his post.
But Ireland would send their supporters home happy as they snatched the winner they deserved seven minutes from time with a moment of quality from sub Johnny Kenny, who arrowed a sensational hit into the far bottom left corner from 25 yards or so.
They almost made the win even more impressive moments later but after Kenny’s low drive was stopped, recently appointed captain Joe Hodge nodded Adaramola’s superb cross against the back post.
: Brooks; Curtis, Lawal (Adaramola 82), Garcia Mac Nulty, Roughlan; Phillips, Hodge; Ebosele, Moran (Leavy 63), O’Neill (Armstrong 63); Cannon (Kenny 76).
: Benediktsson (Helgason ht); Palsson, Thorkelsson (Stefansson ht), Gudmundsson (Kjartansson 68); Omarsson (Baldursson 8), Ingason, Ludviksson (Jonsson ht), Baldursson, Sigurgeirsson (Bjornsson 68); Wohler (Heimisson ht), Djuric (Johannsson 82).
: Jamie Robinson (Northern Ireland).