Will Smallbone scored for the third time in two games as the Republic of Ireland kept alive their dream of making it to the European U21s Championship finals for the first time.
With senior boss Stephen Kenny and his staff watching from the stands at Tallaght Stadium, Ireland rode out a testing start to both halves before Smallbone’s opener and second-half strikes from Liam Kerrigan and Tyreik Wright clinched a 3-1 victory over Montenegro.
As a result, Sweden will need to beat Group F leaders Italy on Thursday evening if they are to stand any chance of edging the Republic out of a top-two finish and if they do not, Jim Crawford’s men will be guaranteed a play-off place by the time they meet the Italians, who are a point better off having played a game fewer, in Ascoli next Tuesday night.
Ireland found themselves under early pressure with striker Nikola Krstovic causing problems and full-back Lee O’Connor twice had to make important interventions.
However, the home side gradually worked their way into the game and after Borussia Monchengladbach’s Conor Noss had prompted a mix-up between keeper Nikola Ivezic and defender Anto Babic, he caused panic when he carved his way into the box from the right, only to see his 29th-minute attempt blocked at 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 JJ Kayode’s chest pass before thumping a left-foot shot across the keeper and inside the far post.
Crawford’s men were under the cosh once again after the restart with keeper Brian Maher saving Krstovic’s long-range effort before Zaim Divanovic blasted the rebound high over, but they increased their lead with 56 minutes gone.
Central defender Eiran Cashin headed Smallbone’s free-kick back across goal and Kerrigan controlled before firing home 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 remaining, there was no way back for the visitors.