Northern Ireland lost out to Luxembourg on penalties in their second game in a four-team UEFA U16 development tournament in Albania.
The Northern Ireland U16/U17 development team, led by U19s and U17s boss Gerard Lyttle, were aiming to bounce back against Luxembourg after narrowly losing 2-1 to Albania in their opening fixture.
They had enough chances to win the game at the National Team Centre in Kamez. however they came up short in the penalty shootout, with Luxembourg winning it 4-3.
Northern Ireland, showing several changes from the team that started against the Albanians, were on the front foot straight away. Cole Brannigan caused the Luxembourg defence a real headache with his penetrating runs.
Brannigan won a free-kick after five minutes which led to the first clearcut chance of the game. A well worked set piece saw striker Cieran O’Hara head the ball over the keeper, but the ball was cleared off the line.
Then Ryan Donnelly fed Brannigan on the edge of the area. His stinging effort was well saved by the keeper.
After 20 minutes O’Hara was sent to the ‘sin bin’ for eight minutes, however it did not knock Northern Ireland out of their stride.
They opened the scoring on 36 minutes when Callum Cowan whipped a free-kick into the box and Callum McCay headed the ball into the bottom corner.
After the break Northern Ireland continued to push forward and created numerous chances.
The Luxembourg keeper saved well at Sam Anderson’s feet as he tried to dribble around him, while the keeper also stopped Donnelly in his tracks when he was about to pull the trigger.
Then substitute Jay McDowell sped past a couple of defenders before unleashing a crisp shot which the keeper managed to keep out.
Luxembourg enjoyed their best spell of the game around the 70-minute mark. They hit the woodwork before scoring with a low drive.
Moments later Northern Ireland thought they had taken the lead again through substitute Jack Hastings, however Anderson’s cross was deemed to have gone out for a goal kick before it was turned in.
Ten minutes later Luxembourg struck again to make it 2-1, however Northern Ireland pushed for an equaliser and got it in the last minute of the game. Bobby Harvey ran at the Luxembourg defence before letting fly from the edge of the area – and the ball nestled in the back of the net after taking a deflection off a Luxembourg defender.
That was the last meaningful action of regulation time and so it was on to the unsuccessful penalty shootout.
Afterwards Lyttle said: “I was very pleased with the team’s performance. They dominated the game for long periods. On another day we could have very easily been three up before they got their first goal.
“We created lots of chances, were brave in possession and we were excellent in our press. The big learning from today is knowing how to manage a game when you go ahead and how to stay focused throughout.”
Northern Ireland’s final game of the UEFA U16 development tournament will see them take on Peru on Thursday (1pm UK time).
Northern Ireland U16/17s v Albania: Lorcan Donnelly, Bobby Harvey, Kyle McCloskey, Josh Lyons, Callum Cowan, Ryan Donnelly, Callum McCay, Ben McGonigle, Cole Brannigan, Sam Anderson, Cieran O’Hara. Substitutes: (used) Francis Turley, Jay McDowell, Logan Graham, Brendan Hamilton, Jack Hastings; (unused) Mason Munn, Theo McToal, Josh Briggs, Adamh Patton.