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Ireland U21 player ratings: Connolly shines brightest in Euro play-off stalemate

Evan Ferguson’s second-half header secured a draw for Ireland’s U-21s against Israel in their Euro 2023 play-off first-leg. Here is how the young Boys in Green got on at Tallaght Stadium.

Brian Maher – 6

Started the play-off confidently and was a commanding presence between the sticks. Dealt with several long balls by the visitors, while his passing out from the back was very good too. The Derry City goalkeeper gifted Israel the opener though, failing to clear a corner-kick as Gorno headed into an open net. Maher didn’t let it affect him though, and had a good second half display.

Jake O’Brien – 7

The RWD Molenbeek centre-back had an impressive evening on his tenth U-21 cap. The 21-year-old played a superb cross field pass to Wright, which almost resulted in Ireland taking the lead in the first half, and had a dominating presence in Ireland’s back three.

Joe Redmond – 6

Making his U-21 debut, the St Pat’s captain looked right at home at the heart of Ireland’s defence. He made several key blocks and was comfortable in passing out from the back too. Played well alongside O’Brien and Cashin.

Eiran Cashin – 7

Cashin was superb in Crawford’s back-line, and made a few excellent blocks to deny Israel goal scoring chances. The Derby County defender almost scored a leveller but headed just over, and was always alert to snuff out any Israel advances.

Lee O’Connor – 6

Ireland’s most capped underage player was a menace in right-wing-back, and was constantly looking to progress the ball through the lines. He sent a few good crosses into the box, and did all that was asked of him defensively too.

Tyreik Wright – 7

The Bradford City player was deployed at left-wing-back by Crawford to great success. The 20-year-old was always a danger down the left flank, and won several free-kicks and corners throughout. Wright provided the assist for Ferguson’s goal and was substituted on 83 minutes.

Joe Hodge – 6

Hodge enjoyed a positive U-21 debut and looked more than comfortable at this level. The 19-year-old played a few beautiful passes to Wright and Ferguson in the first half, and also performed well defensively too. Was replaced by Devoy on 72 minutes, but a solid debut for the midfielder.

Conor Coventry – 6

The most capped Irish player at U-21 level, Coventry had a solid game in central midfield. The West Ham man was always looking to play in between the lines, but gave away a few loose passes.

Will Smallbone – 7

The Stoke midfielder started brightly, and was involved in almost all of Ireland’s attacks in the first-half. He could have put Ireland ahead before the break but fired just over. The 22-year-old linked up well with Connolly and Ferguson, and was close to putting Ireland ahead with a terrific free-kick after Israel went down to ten.

Evan Ferguson – 7

The 17-year-old had a quiet first-half in Tallaght, but produced a huge leap to nod in Wright’s cross to level the play-off after the break. Looked good alongside Connolly, and was replaced with ten minutes left. What a time to score your first U-21 goal.

Aaron Connolly – 8

On his first U-21 start in three years, the Venezia striker made a huge impact on the Young Boys in Green and deservedly won man of the match. Connolly was inches from an opener on 15 minutes as he saw his shot tipped onto the post, before he fired just wide minutes later.

The former Brighton striker’s hold up play was terrific too, and he slotted in seamlessly with Smallbone and Ferguson. He was a constant threat to Israel’s defence in the second half, winning the corner that led to Ferguson’s leveller, and the free that led to Israel’s red card.

Substitutes

Dawson Devoy – 6

Introduced on 72 minutes and replaced Joe Hodge. Slotted in seamlessly and produced a couple of lovely turns to beat his man.

Mipo Odubeko – 5

Replaced goal scorer Ferguson with ten minutes left on the clock, but didn’t make much of an impact.

Festy Ebosele – 5

Replaced Wright on 82 minutes and looked good in left-wing-back in the closing stages.

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