Evan Ferguson’s header boosts Ireland’s playoff hopes at Tallaght The42

Ireland U21 1

Israel U21

Evan Ferguson’s second-half header boosted Ireland’s hopes of qualifying for the European Under-21 Championship as they drew 1-1 with Israel this evening.

The Brighton striker’s first goal for his country at Under-21 level canceled out Aidan Journeau’s opener before the break.

Ireland pressed for a late winning goal after Stav Lemkin was sent off, after man of the match Aaron Connolly was denied a lead in goal, but the visitors held on to the equaliser.

Before kick-off, Jim Crawford switched the system from the 4-2-3-1 system Ireland had used for the majority of their qualifying campaign.

Instead, the homeowners started with a 5-3-2 score. Joe Redmond and Joe Hodge were delivered U21-level debuts while Aaron Connolly, who has eight first-team caps, made his U21s debut since 3-1 defeating Sweden three years ago.

Joel Pagan, Mark McGuinness, Gavin Kilkenny, and Liam Kerrigan all missed out with injury, having started their last game – Disappointing 4-1 defeat to Italy in June.

In addition to the aforementioned trio, Crystal Palace defender Jake O’Brien – currently on loan in Belgium’s second tier with RWD Molenbeek – came to the side in place of McGuinness.

Meanwhile, Israel, who sealed their place in the playoffs last summer with a comfortable 2-0 victory over San Marino, formed a 4-5-1 formation.

Among the hugely popular youngsters was Oscar Gloch, who played for his country’s Under-19 team in the summer when they reached the European Championship final before losing to England in extra time, while defender Eliam Kanspolski was also among those involved in that tournament.

Usher Davida of Standard Liege and Mohamed Kanaan of FC Ashdod were other players identified by Crawford in the pre-match press conference.

It was the visitors who had a better start, putting Ireland back in their half and dominating play amid an awkward opening.

Gradually the hosts came on larger, and had their first big chance of the match in the 15th minute – Connor Coventry passed Connolly on goal but the striker’s shot from a narrow angle crossed the post by goalkeeper David Peretz.

Moments later, it was the visitors’ turn to threaten, as Canaan’s efforts flew in from a distance.

Connolly approached again shortly thereafter. Lee O’Connor found the loaned Venice player with a low cross, but his shot at the corner slipped away.

As the first half progressed, Ireland were putting up more in attack and looked more likely to break the deadlock, with Connolly often ahead in more promising offensive moments.

However, Israel came close an hour later, with Brian Maher needing to overturn Roy Hermann’s cross over the bar.

Near the end of the first half, Ferguson put the ball on Will Smallbone on the edge of the area, and Peretz hit a powerful attempt on his first loan to Stoke.

Down the other end, Maher went low to clear Gloukh’s free kick from about 30 yards.

The goalkeeper had to be on the alert again moments later, to hold out against Canaan’s effort.

However, from the ensuing corner, a Derry stopper came and failed to push Davida’s ball into the penalty area and Journo was within reach in the empty net as Israel fired the first big kick of the match.

Ireland took a while in the second half, but came close when Iran headed Kashin over a Terek Wright free kick.

Moments later, Will Smallbone put in a dangerous cross, but Aaron Connolly was unable to head into the goal.

Small Boone was involved again just an hour later, his soaring free kick from the right headed narrowly by Kashin.

However, Ireland was not rejected after a minute. Wright hit a corner kick and Ferguson rose higher, finding the corner kick with a header and did not leave a chance for Peretz.

The momentum was with the boys in the green now, and Smallbone Connolly’s cross found a good mid-movement, but the striker couldn’t get the necessary power or direction in his header.

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10 minutes before the end of the match, Ireland thought they had been awarded a penalty.

Lemkin stumbled Connolly as he ran towards goal and was subsequently sent off.

However, the referee ruled the infringement as out of the box, causing frustration for the home team’s fans.

Peretz comfortably saved a Smallbone free kick.

Ireland then pushed for the win and the energetic Connolly fired at the last minute.

In the end, the hosts had to settle for a draw that leaves everything to play before next week’s second leg in Tel Aviv.

Ireland U21: 1. Brian Maher 2. Lee O’Connor 13. Jake O’Brien 4. Joe Redmond 5. Iran Cashin 7. Joe Hodge (Defoe 73) 6. Conor Coventry 18. Tyrick Wright (Ibucell 83) 10. Will Smallbone Aaron Connolly 19. Evan Ferguson (October 79)

Subs: 16. David Odomuso 8. Dawson Defoe 9. Joshua Caywood 14. Ole O’Neill 15. Andy Lyons 17. Ross Tierney 20. Mipo Odubeko 21. Anselmo Garcia MacNulty 22. Festy Ebosele

Israel U21: 1. David Peretz 3. Ziv Morgan 5. Jill Cohen 7. Osher Davida (Zasnu 79) 8. Muhammad Kanaan (Laius 61) 11. Oscar Gluch 12. Eliam Kanspolsky (Hofmeister 79) 17. Edo Shachar 19. Aidan Gorno (Gill) 83) 20. Stav Lemkin 22. Roy Hermann (Jaber 61).

Subs: 18. Omar Yaqub Nir V 2. Karam Jaber 4. Yuval Jaber 6. Zohar Zasno 10. Stav Nachmani 14. Tay Abed Qusous 15. Yoav Hofmeister 16. Hisham Lewis 21. Noam Gil Malamud

Rule: Dario Pal (Croatia)

Presence: 6786