Northern Ireland narrowly lost out to hosts Albania in their opening game in a four-team UEFA U16 development tournament.
The Northern Ireland U16/U17 development team, led by U19s and U17s coach Gareth McAuley and U21s boss John Schofield, were defeated 2-1 by the Albanians at the National Team Centre in Kamez.
The game looked to be heading for a draw, but Albania scored very late on to snatch the win.
The boys in green and white had a composed start. Minutes after kick-off Cieran O’Hara was fouled just outside the penalty area. The free-kick was delivered to Josh Briggs at the back post and he headed the ball to striker O’Hara, who fired his shot over the top.
However, O’Hara was more accurate with his next effort on 15 minutes. Ryan Donnelly (pictured) found Fra Turley and he in turn played a lovely through-ball to O’Hara who managed to beat the onrushing keeper to the ball and slide it home to make it 1-0 to Northern Ireland.
Ten minutes later Northern Ireland keeper Mason Munn produced a superb save to keep the Albanians out, however the hosts did draw level just before half-time.
After the break striker Jay McDowell’s low cross-cum-shot was gathered in by the Albanian keeper, while Sam Anderson went on a mazy run and fed Callum McCay, whose shot drifted wide of the target.
Northern Ireland’s next opportunity saw Brendan Hamilton produce a driven cross, but the Albanian keeper was equal to it.
Just when the game looked to be heading for a draw the hosts popped up to score in the 91st minute. It was a real sucker punch.
In their other two games in the UEFA U16 development tournament Northern Ireland will come up against Luxembourg and Peru.
Northern Ireland U16/17s v Albania: Mason Munn, Theo McToal, Josh Briggs, Adamh Patton, Brendan Hamilton, Callum McCay, Ryan Donnelly, Fra Turley, Sam Anderson, Jay McDowell, Cieran O’Hara. Substitutes: (used) Jack Hastings, Cole Brannigan; (unused) Lorcan Donnelly (GK), Logan Graham, Kyle McCloskey, Callum Cowan, Bobby Harvey Josh Lyons, Ben McGonigle.