Northern Ireland’s Under-16 began their preparations for this year’s Victory Shield competition with a 1-1 draw against Poland U16s.
The U16s, coached by Kris Lindsay, are playing the Poles twice in friendlies this week ahead of the international tournament in the autumn.
Game one saw them come up against Poland U16s at the Miejski Stadium in the town of Lubliniec in southern Poland yesterday.
On a balmy evening Northern Ireland were out of the blocks quickly and caused the Polish defence problems with quick, incisive play.
Then Poland enjoyed a 10-minute period where they dominated possession, however the Northern Ireland defence held firm and goalkeeper Will Murdock was rarely troubled.
The visitors took the lead in the 29th minute. The ball was played in to Kenzie Beattie and he controlled it superbly with his chest before playing it out wide to Cole Brannigan, who took the full back on and delivered a great cross which was cleared by the Polish defence.
However, Beattie had continued his run. He picked up the loose ball at the edge of the box before beating a defender and unleashing an unstoppable right foot shot into the top right hand corner. It was a peach of a goal.
The reminder of the half was an even affair as both teams probed but did not produce any clearcut chances.
At half-time Poland made four changes, while Northern Ireland were unchanged at the start of the second half.
The second period started with Poland on the front foot. Their subs gave them a fresh dimension, however Northern Ireland held firm with the defence getting great cover from the industrious Fionn Duffy, captain Jack Doherty and Dylan Stitt. Once Northern Ireland won the ball back they were confident and controlled in possession, and showed great maturity.
In the 69th minute Poland were awarded a controversial penalty. A long ball over the top from defence fell to the feet of a Polish striker. His run was matched by Conor Haughey, however Haughey went to ground to win the ball and the big Polish striker fell.
The referee was unmoved at first, but after speaking with an assistant referee he eventually gave the penalty to the amazement of the Northern Ireland bench and players.
Igor Brzyski took the spot kick. Following a confident run-up he placed his shot to the keeper’s right. Murdock produced a magnificent save and was quickly back up on his feet to save the rebound and the ball was cleared to safety.
At this stage Poland were starting to apply pressure. In the 77th minute the ball was played over the top and a great run from Kacper Szulc was matched by an excellent lobbed finish, getting to the ball just before Murdock could get there. And the ball crossed the line despite the best efforts of Haughey to keep it out.
Northern Ireland regrouped for the remainder of the game and had some good periods of possession but unfortunately they were not able to find a winner.
Afterwards team boss Lindsay said: “It was a really positive performance in their first taste of international football. I thought we were very disciplined defensively and limited Poland to few chances while playing with pace and creativity in attack.
“It was an excellent foundation for us to build on, with the players now knowing the intensity and physicality required to compete on the international stage along with the technical and tactical demands expected.”
The second match between Northern Ireland and Poland is scheduled for the same venue tomorrow (25 August), with a 10am kick-off local time.
The Victory Shield tournament, featuring Republic of Ireland, Scotland and Wales, is due to be hosted by the Football Association of Ireland and staged in Waterford from 30 October until 4 November.
Northern Ireland U16 Schoolboys: Will Murdock (Manchester United), Conor McVeigh (Linfield), Conor Haughey (Glentoran), Calum Moreland (Linfield), Callum Cowan (Linfield), Fionn Duffy (Derry City), Dylan Stitt (Linfield), Jack Doherty (captain, Derry City), Kenzie Beattie (Linfield), Cole Brannigan (Linfield), Oscar Kelly (Rochdale). Substitutes: (used) Troy Savage (Castle Juniors), Michael Harkin (Derry City), Sean Corry (Ballinamallard United), Braiden Graham (Linfield), Oilibhéar McCart (Cliftonville); (unused) Joshua Gracey (Glenavon) (GK), Caoimhan Crossan (Derry City), Callum Doherty (Derry City), Lewis Smyth (Dungannon Swifts).