Will Smallbone scored for the third time in two games as the Republic of Ireland chased their dream of reaching the European Under-21 Championship final for the first time.
With senior boss Stephen Kenny and his team watching from the stands at Tallaght Stadium, Ireland enjoyed a test start to both halves before Smallbone’s opener and second-half strikes from Liam Kerrigan and Tyreik Wright did claim a 3-1 win over Montenegro.
As a result, Sweden will have to beat Group F leaders Italy on Thursday night if they are to have any chance of edging the Republic a top two and if they don’t then Jim Crawford’s men will be guaranteed a blocade. place as they meet the Italians, who are a point better off after playing one game less, at Ascoli next Tuesday night.
Ireland found themselves under pressure early on with striker Nikola Krstovic causing problems and full-back Lee O’Connor had to make two important interventions.
However, the home side gradually made their way into the game and after Borussia Mönchengladbach’s Conor Noss caused confusion between goalkeeper Nikola Ivezic and defender Anto Babic, he caused panic when he smashed a way into the box from the right, only to have his 29th-minute attempt blocked at the source.
Noss forced a 38th-minute save from Ivezic after meeting Smallbone’s corner, but it was the Southampton midfielder who broke the deadlock four minutes before half-time when he controlled the pass chest from JJ Kayode before hitting a left footed shot on the keeper and inside the wide post.
Crawford’s men were under pressure again after the restart with goalkeeper Brian Maher saving Krstovic’s long-range effort before Zaim Divanovic blasted the rebound, but they increased their lead to 56 minutes.
Centre-back Eiran Cashin headed Smallbone’s free kick towards goal and Kerrigan controlled before firing from close range.
The game was effectively over with 23 minutes remaining when substitute Evan Ferguson crossed for Wright to make it 3-0, and although Viktor Dukanovic reduced the deficit with 14 minutes to go, there was no back for visitors.