Northern Ireland’s Women’s Under-19s secured a 1-0 victory over Azerbaijan in their final League B Group 1 Women’s U19 Euro 2022 qualifier.
The narrow win - Cora Chambers got the goal - means Northern Ireland have gained promotion to League A for the next edition of the competition.
Malta, their nearest rivals in a four-team group, also won today, defeating Faroe Islands 3-2 at Seaview. However, Northern Ireland’s superior goal difference (+6) to Malta’s (+2) ensured they topped the group.
After drawing 1-1 with Malta and defeating Faroe Islands 5-0, the WU19s knew they required another victory today – and they quickly got down to work.
They got there in the end, however they spurned several chances at Inver Park in Larne.
In rainy conditions Northern Ireland took the game to Azerbaijan, who defeated the Faroes and lost to Malta in their previous two Group 1 games.
The first shot on goal came from Kathryn Dickson, however her effort was easily held by Azerbaijan keeper Goknur Guleruz.
A speculative long range effort from Cora Morgan looped towards Guleruz, but again she held on to the ball, before captain Fionnuala Morgan tried her luck from distance. Her shot drifted wide of the post.
Guleruz held a looping Mia Little shot as Chambers looked set to pounce.
With Noel Mitchell and Aaron Hughes providing guidance from the sidelines, Northern Ireland continued to push forward, however the next opportunity fell Azerbaijan’s way on the half-hour mark. Midfielder Aysun Muradova tested Lilie Woods from long range but the keeper held on to it.
The home side took the lead in the 33rd minute. A long ball from Fi Morgan found Ella Haughey down the left. She whipped the ball into the area where it was knocked down by Eve Reilly to Chambers and she smashed it home.
A Haughey corner was then cleverly flicked on by Chambers eight yards out, however Azerbaijan managed to clear their lines.
After the break Haughey continued to produce some excellent deliveries into the area, however the Azerbaijan defence stood firm.
Kathryn McConnell took off on a good run down the right and her cross was pushed away by the keeper.
On 55 minutes Haughey curled in a lovely free-kick from 25 yards which went inches past the post.
Azerbaijan captain Alina Nahmadova peeled off her marker and directed a header off target as the visitors enjoyed a rare foray forward.
Guleruz easily gathered a long range Cora Morgan effort before Helen Parker had a shot that was diverted out for a corner. And Reilly put a header wide as Northern Ireland continued to press.
Parker played a wonderful defence-splitting pass to fellow substitute Darcy Boyle and Guleruz raced off her line to produce another fine stop from Boyle’s drive.
In the 88th minute Northern Ireland had a huge let-off when Tierna Bell appeared to clip Fatma Nur Senses inside the penalty area, however the referee waved play on.
Boyle found Kathryn Dickson with a great cross, however Dickson failed to get a decent connection and Guleruz grabbed the ball.
Boyle then had an effort of her own, after stepping past a couple of markers, but again Guleruz made the save.
In added time Azerbaijan substitute Nahida Mammadova steered a header towards goal which Lilie Woods was equal to.
WU19s and WU17s boss Alfie Wylie will be delighted his team have progressed in the League B Group 1 four-team mini tournament, which has been hosted by the Irish FA over the past week.
Northern Ireland WU19s: Lilie Woods, Kathryn McConnell, Ella Haughey, Fionnuala Morgan (captain), Tierna Bell, Grace McKimm, Mia Little, Cora Morgan, Cora Chambers, Eve Reilly, Kathryn Dickson: Substitutes: (used) Helen Parker, Darcy Boyle, Abbie McHenry, Erin Montgomery, Sarah Jane McMaster; (unused) Lauren Welsh (GK), Shona Davis, Ellie-Mae Dickson, Abigail Redmond.
Azerbaijan WU19s: Goknur Guleruz, Samir Ashirova, Milana Rahimova, Alina Nahmadova (captain), Irem Bir, Buse Nur Kocabey, Semanur Arzik, Aysun Muradova, Fatima Ahmadli, Parvin Safaraliyeva, Fatma Nur Senses. Substitutes: Aytaj Feyzullayeva (GK), Bozkurt, Jafarova, Alizada, Zerioul, Aghayeva, Nahida Mammadova.