Northern Ireland’s senior women’s team produced a superb performance to draw 2-2 with Austria Women in a FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023 qualifier in Belfast tonight.
And it could have been even better. Kenny Shiels’ side were leading 2-1 after 90 minutes but the Austrians, second seeds in European Qualifying Group D behind England, dug deep and scored deep into added time to secure a point.
Northern Ireland, who had Chloe McCarron, Caragh Hamilton, Nadene Caldwell and Laura Rafferty pulled from the squad hours before kick-off due to Covid protocols, put in an unbelievable shift in front of 2,350 spectators at Seaview.
Austria were the better team in the first half and went in 1-0 up at the break through a Barbara Dunst strike. However, the home side were full of energy in the second period and deservedly went ahead thanks to cracking goals from Lauren Wade and Demi Vance.
But the visitors piled on the pressure towards the end and grabbed the leveller through substitute Stefanie Enzinger.
During the early exchanges Austria midfielder Dunst fired over the top and then Northern Ireland keeper Jackie Burns saved a Sarah Puntigam shot.
Northern Ireland’s first chance came when Vance fired a free-kick towards the back post where Sarah McFadden headed the ball against her central defensive partner Julie Nelson and it went out for a goal kick.
Burns saved well from Austria midfielder Katharina Naschenweng, while their prolific striker Nicole Billa scuffed her shot when the ball fell invitingly for her inside the area.
On 21 minutes Kirsty McGuinness fed Northern Ireland captain Marissa Callaghan just outside the area but she lofted her shot well over the top.
The Northern Ireland defence, with Nelson and McFadden imperious, stood firm as Austria pushed forward. On the half-hour mark Burns was called into action once again when she turned a Dunst free-kick around the post.
Moments later Rachel Furness found McGuinness down the left and she sped forward, however her cross evaded Northern Ireland’s attackers.
Austria took the lead on 42 minutes when Dunst got on the end of a clever pass from Sarah Zadrazil and stroked the ball past Burns at the near post.
As half-time approached Vance fired in another free-kick which was partially cleared to McFadden whose looping header was easily gathered by Austria keeper Manuela Zinsberger.
On the stroke of half-time Zadrazil got in behind the Northern Ireland defence but shot straight at Burns.
Just 47 seconds after the restart Wade scored a peach of an equaliser for Northern Ireland. Furness, who had been spraying the ball around superbly all night, launched a long pass over the top and Wade ran on to it before neatly stroking it past Zinsberger into the bottom corner.
And Northern Ireland’s second goal was even better. In the 50th minute Demi Vance stepped up to take a free-kick from 35 yards and placed it superbly into the top corner.
McGuinness tried a speculative shot from distance which drifted just wide of the upright.
Moments later Burns pulled off a superb save to keep out a low drive from Marie Therese Hobinger. She dived full length to push the midfielder’s shot around the post.
Rebecca McKenna and Vance produced a couple of fine blocks as a wounded Austria searched for an equaliser. Zadrazil fired in a shot from distance which was well handled by Burns.
On 72 minutes Vance stepped up to take another free-kick but this time her effort sailed over the bar.
Burns produced a superb double save to keep the Austrians out on 81 minutes. Firstly she saved at Dunst’s feet 12 yards out and then she pushed away Zadrazil’s follow-up shot.
There was a major let-off for Northern Ireland minutes later when substitute Laura Feiersinger got in behind the home defence but slid her shot wide as Burns raced towards her.
Jessica Foy, who along with Emma McMaster was a late addition to the squad following the four withdrawals, came on with five minutes of regulation time remaining to shore things up.
Austria continued to push forward. Puntigam blasted in a long range effort which was tipped over by Burns before Billa smashed a shot against the bar.
It was all hands on deck at this stage as Austria turned the screw, and Northern Ireland could not hold out.
Two minutes into added time Wenninger launched the ball into the area and substitute Enzinger was on hand to head the ball over Burns into the net. It was a real sucker punch.
Northern Ireland: Jackie Burns, Rebecca McKenna, Demi Vance, Sarah McFadden, Julie Nelson, Kelsie Burrows, Marissa Callaghan (captain), Rachel Furness, Kirsty McGuinness, Kerry Beattie, Lauren Wade. Substitutes: (used) Simone Magill, Emily Wilson, Jessica Foy; (unused) Becky Flaherty (GK), Maddison Harvey-Clifford, Rachel McLaren, Emma McMaster, Louise McDaniel, Joely Andrews, Ciara Watling.
Austria: Manuela Zinsberger, Laura Wienroither, Virginia Kirchberger, Carina Wenninger (captain), Verena Hanshaw, Sarah Puntigam, Katharina Naschenweng, Sarah Zadrazil, Nicole Billa, Marie Therese Hobinger, Barbara Dunst. Substitutes: Vanessa Gritzner (GK), Jasmin Pal (GK), Celina Degen, Viktoria Pinther, Maria Plattner, Katharina Schiechtl, Laura Feiersinger, Marina Georgieva, Jasmin Eder, Katja Wienerroither, Annabel Schasching, Stefanie Enzinger.