Northern Ireland U19s and U17s boss Stephen Frail has applauded the “excellent performances” of his U16 development squad at a tournament in Bulgaria.
His side won two and narrowly lost one to the host nation - on penalties - in a development tournament run by UEFA in Sliven.
“There were some exciting individual performances, and really good collective performances, during the trip,” he revealed.
In their first game against Luxembourg, at the Hadzhi Dimitar Stadium, Northern Ireland were 3-0 up at half-time through two goals from striker Ross McCausland and one from attacking midfielder Dale Taylor.
Luxembourg scored a consolation in the second half to leave the final scoreline at 3-1, however Frail was pleased with how his team were dominant “against a good Luxembourg side”.
Game two saw the U16s take on Wales, who lost to Bulgaria in their first game. Again Northern Ireland were on top throughout.
Charlie Allen opened the scoring for the boys in green and white in the opening period, and McCausland extended the lead in the second half with a good strike. Wales scored a consolation late on to leave the final score at 2-1.
The third game was a winner-takes-all scenario against a physically strong Bulgarian side. Both teams went into the match with two victories under their belts.
Northern Ireland took the lead in the first half when Taylor netted. The Bulgarians equalised 10 minutes into the second half, however after that Frail’s side controlled the game and created numerous chances.
However, it was all square at full-time and a penalty shoot-out was staged to decide the overall winners, and the hosts triumphed 5-4 on penalties.
The manager explained: “I can take lots of positives from the trip. We have a good core of talented players. In all three games we were sharp, dominated possession, passed well and played at a high intensity.
“My only criticism is that we need to be more clinical in front of goal, however I was nevertheless pleased with the number of chances created.”
Most of the players in the development squad now look likely to feature for the Northern Ireland U17s in Euro qualifiers this autumn – and beforehand in the Nordic Cup, which is being staged in Denmark in August.
“All of the players in our 20-strong squad got decent game time, at least 80 minutes each. They all did really well and they were good to work with. We had excellent performances and I am confident we will do well later in the year,” added Frail.
The Northern Ireland U16 development squad in Bulgaria: Conner Byrne (Glenavon), Sean McAllister (Dungannon), Jamal Tavares (Ballinamallard United), Orrin McLaughlin (Derry City), Aaron Donnelly (Dungannon), Jonah Heron (Ards), Charlie Allen (Linfield), Harry Wilson (Glentoran), Dale Taylor (Linfield), Isaac Price (Everton), Charlie Lindsay (Glentoran), Connor Manderson (Portsmouth), Lewis Mackinnon (Linfield), Stephen McGuinness (Cliftonville), Ross McCausland (Linfield), Dane McCullough (Portadown), Caolan McBride (Glentoran), Ciaran McGuckin (Rotherham), Matthew Lusty (Glentoran), Matthew Walker (Coleraine).