Northern Ireland’s U21 Euro 2021 qualification campaign ended with a defeat against Ukraine this evening.
Caretaker boss Andy Crosby’s team battled well in snowy, chilly conditions for nearly 70 minutes before conceding three goals within seven minutes at the Kolos Arena in Kovalivka.
The U21s were aiming to finish on a high in Group 8 but the Ukrainians, who made several changes from the side that lost 1-0 in Ballymena last month, were more creative and more clinical and deserved their win.
There was a scrappy opening to the game, with both defences on top, and the first clearcut chance did not come until the 23rd minute when Ukraine defender Ihor Snurnitsyn’s effort missed the target.
Minutes later Northern Ireland goalkeeper Ollie Webber made a good stop from a Mykola Kukharevych attempt on goal.
Northern Ireland’s first chance came after 27 minutes when Shayne Lavery fired a shot wide of the upright, while Snurnitsyn had another effort blocked.
Towards the end of the half midfielder Amrit Bansal-McNulty forced a save out of Ukrainian keeper Anatolii Trubin. Caolan Boyd-Munce fired in a corner which was met by Bansal-McNulty but the stopper was equal to his effort.
Just after the restart Lavery hit the woodwork and then Webber saved well from Ukraine captain Vladyslav Dubinchak.
After that the home side took control. They opened the scoring on 68 minutes when Roman Vantukh fired in a corner which was guided into the net by Vladislav Baboglo.
They went further ahead in the 70th minute when substitute Tymor Stetskov crossed to Ievgenii Isaienko and he swept the ball home.
Lavery had another shot blocked before the hosts made it 3-0. This time it was Kukharevych who got himself on the scoresheet.
Northern Ireland continued to work hard in the dreadful conditions and Lavery did well once again to get a shot off in the 77th minute, however Trubin pushed it out for a corner.
Both sides huffed and puffed after that, however the second half goal flurry from Ruslan Rotan’s team was enough to secure the three points.
The defeat means Northern Ireland finished fifth in their six-team group following two victories, three draws and five defeats.
Northern Ireland U21: Oliver Webber, Caolan Marron, Danny Amos, Ciaron Brown, Eoin Toal (captain), Amrit Bansal-McNulty, Caolan Boyd-Munce, Alfie McCalmont, Trai Hume, Paul O’Neill, Shayne Lavery. Substitutes (used); (not used) Liam Hughes (GK), Ross Larkin, Lewis Thompson, Daniel Finlayson, Kofi Balmer, John Joshua (JJ) McKiernan, Andrew Scott, Christopher McKee, Liam Ravenhill.
Ukraine U21: Anatolii Trubin, Volodymyr Yakimets, Vladislav Baboglo, Ihor Snurnitsyn, Vladyslav Dubinchak (captain), Yehor Yarmoliuk, Volodymyr Brazhko, Roman Vantukh, Mykola Kukharevych, Illia Shevtsov, Ievgenii Isaienko. Substitutes: Vladyslav Kucheruk (GK), Mykyta Turbaievskyi (GK), Danylo Kravchur, Kristian Bilovar, Mykola Mykhailenko, Tymur Stetskov, Bohdan Biloshevskyi, Andrii Kravchuk.