NOEL KING’S U21s staged a second half comeback to earn an excellent point from Italy in their European championships qualifier at the Showgrounds.
Ireland got off to a disastrous start when Everton defender Shane Duffy put the ball into his own net after just three minutes played and it seemed they were looking at a defeat when striker Ciro Immobile, part-owned by Genoa and Juventus but on loan at Pescara, doubled the lead from outside the box on 56 minutes.
However, they were offered a lifeline soon after and Manchester United academy product Robbie Brady converted from the penalty spot to halve the deficit.
And with 19 minutes remaining, Manchester City full-back Greg Cunningham was on the end of a Brady free-kick to glance home an equaliser. Defender Marco Verratti was also sent off before the final whistle.
Managed by former Juventus defender Ciro Ferrara, Italy came into this fixture as Group 7 leaders, having won all five of their previous matches.
With second-placed Turkey losing out to Hungary on Friday, Ireland were intent on picking up points in a bid to close the gap but will he happy with a draw, especially after the bad start.
The ten group winners and four runners-up with the best records will advance to the play-offs for next summer’s finals in Israel. Ireland face Turkey next on August 14.
Ireland: Ian McLoughlin (Aaron McCarey ’59), John Egan, Greg Cunningham (c), Shane Duffy, Niall Canavan, Richard Towell, Aidan White, Eunan O’Kane, Rhys Murphy (James Collins ’89), Jeff Hendrick, Robbie Brady.