Northern Ireland’s Under-18 Schoolboys were narrowly defeated 3-2 by Scotland as they began their 2022 Centenary Shield campaign.
Frankie Wilson’s team had the bulk of the possession, and played some slick attacking football across the 90-plus minutes, however Scotland’s ruthlessness in front of goal proved decisive as they claimed the victory in Renfrewshire.
Scotland keeper Liam Russell was the man of the match. He pulled off several fine saves as Northern Ireland’s 24-game unbeaten run in the Centenary Shield, which began in March 2017, came to an end.
Northern Ireland started brightly in the 2022 competition’s opening game at Renfrew FC’s ground with Aaron Wightman and Liam McStravick producing some searing runs. Early on Wightman fed Jack McFeely but his snapshot was blocked.
Northern Ireland played some neat flowing football as they pushed forward, however Scotland took the lead against the run of play when Lucas Stenhouse produced a curling effort which sailed past Northern Ireland keeper Rian Brown and clipped the inside of the post before nestling in the back of the net.
The opening goal came in the 16th minute and the hosts doubled their lead five minutes later. Ben Lamont punished some slack defending when poking the ball home at the back post.
Northern Ireland, the current holders of the trophy, did not let their heads drop and streamed forward. Russell produced a superb save when pushing a Wightman curler around the post, while Donal Scullion headed over the top.
McStravick steered a shot wide of the post as the boys in green and white continued to press. McFeely’s clever touch and turn created a shooting opportunity, however Russell was equal to his effort. And Ewan McCoubrey fired a free-kick over the top.
At the start of the second half Northern Ireland deservedly pulled a goal back when a Lewis Tosh cross squeezed through Russell’s legs and Wightman was on hand to tap the ball home from close range.
However, just when the visitors were beginning to dominate, Scotland scored their third and it was another fine finish, Lewis Gibson curling the ball past Brown from 16 yards in the 53rd minute.
Once again Northern Ireland did not let their heads drop and they remained on the front foot.
On 66 minutes a clever corner-kick routine saw the ball fed to McStravick and his low drive was pushed away by Russell. Moments later McFeely’s delivery across the face of goal was scooped clear and from the resulting corner Donal Scullion put a header inches wide of the upright.
Russell then produced another wonder stop. Northern Ireland substitute Luca McGreevey let fly from the edge of the area and the Scotland keeper tipped his stinging effort round the post.
In the closing stages McStravick’s low drive was easily collected by Russell and then, deep into stoppage time, Odhran McCart got on the end of another excellent Tosh delivery to make it 3-2, but unfortunately for Northern Ireland there was no time left to grab the equaliser which their play merited.
The U18 Schoolboys will be hoping to bounce back on matchday two in the SAFIB (Schools’ Association Football International Board) competition in which they play their counterparts in England, Scotland, Wales and Republic of Ireland.
They are set to face Wales next Thursday (10 March) at the revamped Blanchflower Stadium in east Belfast which is now the home of Harland and Wolff Welders FC.
Northern Ireland: Rian Brown, Ewan McCoubrey, Lewis Tosh, Aidan Kelly (captain), Odhran McCart, Donal Scullion, Aaron Wightman, Ryan McKay, Liam McStravick, Jack McFeely, Caolan Millen. Substitutes: (used), Max Greer, Luca McGreevey, Jack Montgomery, Caolan Donnelly; (unused) Alex Henderson (GK), Oscar McKenna.
Scotland: Liam Russell, Gavin Hamilton, Jay Burns, John Binnie, Matthew Strachan, Kenneth Macinnes, Rayan Mohammed, Ben Lamont, Lewis Gibson, Oliver Brander, Lucas Stenhouse. Substitutes: Matthew Wallace (GK), Harry Stephen, Brodie Watt, Bayley Klimionek, Lewis Lorimer, Che Reilly, Michael Beagley.