Football | Elbouzedi seals Ireland U21 win in Armenia

Zack Elbouzedi’s goal has secured a 1-0 win for the Republic of Ireland U21s in Armenia.

The Waterford midfielder scored the only goal of the game in the 63rd minute, keeping his calm at the back post to curl an excellent strike into the roof of the net.

Stephen Kenny’s visitors finished the game in Yerevan with 10 men, losing captain Dara O’Shea to a red card with 15 minutes remaining.

The Boys in Green entered the European Championship qualifier with a depleted squad.

Aaron Connolly, Michael Obafemi, Caoimhin Kelleher, Neil Farrugia, Conor Masterson and Trevor Clarke all missed out through injury, while Lee O’Connor (suspended) and Troy Parrott have been called up to Mick McCarthy’s senior team.

Goalkeeper Gavan Bazunu made his first start for the U21s, as did defenders Nathan Collins, Thomas O’Connor and Danny McNamara. 

Ireland came close to taking the lead in the 26th minute when Tom O’Connor’s in-swinging free kick from the right whistled past the far post, with O’Shea inches away from getting his head to the inviting cross.

Jason Knight should have opened the scoring for the dominant Boys in Green just after the hour mark, but the midfielder scythed his shot from 18 yards just wide of the post after being found in space in the penalty area.

It was scoreless at the interval, but it was the away side who made the crucial breakthrough in the 63rd minute.

Knight won a challenge in the middle of the park before playing Adam Idah through down the right flank.

Idah sent a dangerous low cross into the box, which made it all the way through to Elbouzedi at the back post.

The 21-year-old, who was excellent throughout, took two touches before finishing emphatically past Sevak Aslanyan.

Ireland were then reduced to 10 men when O’Shea was shown a straight red card for tripping Karen Melkonyan as the midfielder raced through on goal in the 75th minute.

The Irish wall stood tall to block Vahan Bichakhchyan’s resulting free kick, and Kenny’s team held out to seal a crucial win in their qualifying campaign.

“I’m delighted with the manner of performance,” Kenny said afterwards.

“We handed four debuts in the starting line-up and Aidan Keena came off the bench to make his debut as well,” said Kenny.

“To produce the real team performance we’ve produced with the short amount of time we’ve had to work with the team, I’m delighted and the players should be really proud of themselves.”

The win puts Ireland four points clear in Group 1 with four games remaining. However, second placed Iceland have two games in hand.

Next up for Ireland is a clash against second seeds Sweden in Tallaght on Tuesday.