07.09.1999 at 19:00 Ta’Qali Stadium Malta
Referee: A Gudtzov (Bulgaria)
European Qualifier / PROG-match
Alex O Reilly
Brian Barry- Murphy
Andy O Brien
Malta 1 Republic of Ireland 3
Alan Mahon, the Republic of Ireland’s most capped Under-21 player, fired a cracking second half goal to lift his side to victory in Malta and shift some of the depression from two previous defeats in a row.
Tottenham striker Neale Fenn cheekily back-heeled in another two minutes from time to make it 3-0 after the Irish had led from the 36th minute of the opening half with an own goal.
Carlo Mamo’s long-range strike for Malta was only a late consolation effort as the Republic youngsters ran out comfortable winners.
Sadly, it was too late to have any bearing on the race for qualification to next summer’s European Under 21 Championship finals, with Croatia having already clinched the entry from Group Eight by hammering the Irish youngsters 5-1 in Zagreb last Friday ö three days after Ian Evans’s team slipped 2-0 at home to Yugoslavia.
But after a couple of early scares in the Ta’Qali Stadium, Tranmere midfielder Mahon marked his 19th international appearance with a stunning goal in the 70th minute.
It doubled their lead after an own goal by Malta’s Massimo Grima nine minutes before half time and although the final tally should have been much better, Evans will be happy enough to see his team finish their hectic schedule on a winning note.
Fenn reacted smartly to back-heel the ball over the line for a deserved third following Colin Hawkins’ knock-down from a corner in the closing minutes and when Mamo launched a 30-yarder over goalkeeper Alex O’Reilly’s head in the dying seconds it was only a minor blip.
The Irish soon looked a class above their rivals who were only beaten 1-0 by Croatia a few weeks ago.
But they had to ride an early scare in the 16th minute when Malta’s Antoine Zahra curled a 35-yard free kick over goalkeeper O’Reilly and against the crossbar.
And the Republic were still trying to recover when Michael Galea missed a sitter for the home side from eight yards two minutes later. Once they had settled, though, Ireland should have had the game wrapped up by half time with Hawkins and Alan Lee coming close.
In the 36th minute, Fenn was instrumental in Ireland taking a bizarre but overdue lead when his header hit the underside of the bar before the luckless Maltese midfielder Massimo Grima nodded into his own net.
Impressive Brentford right-back Boxall went closest to extending the lead early in the second period when slipping neatly onto Fenn’s pass, but he clipped his shot past the near post.
Boxall had to go off with an injury in the 58th minute but Ireland should have had a second goal when Mahon went clear onto Quinn’s quickly-taken free-kick but failed in his attempt to chip the keeper.
Finally Mahon produced an emphatic finish from 15 yards to drill in Fenn’s clever pass and seal the victory.
And it was only a splendid save by the Maltese goalkeeper Saviour Darmanin which prevented Mahon adding another goal with an equally powerful drive soon afterwards.
MALTA U 21: Darmanin, Giglio, Mamo, Dimech, Camenzuli, Grima, Licari (Debono 73), Holland (A. Galea 69), Mufzud, M. Galea, Zahra (Ciantar 57).
REPUBLIC OF IRELAND U21: O’Reilly, Boxall (Ryan 58), Maybury, O’Brien, Hawkins, Worrell, Quinn, Barry-Murphy (Cummins 69), Lee (Conlon 81), Fenn, Mahon.ï
Referee: A Gudtzov (Bulgaria).