Northern Ireland’s Under-21s were overrun by a slick France U21s team in an international friendly in Calais.
John Schofield’s side were still very much in the contest until the final half hour but then the hosts put the burners on at the Stade de l'Épopée and ran out 5-0 winners.
Northern Ireland were always going to be up against it when facing a team packed with players who operate in Ligue 1, France’s top flight.
However, they did have the first clearcut chance of the game. Ethan Galbraith’s delivery from a corner was headed powerfully towards goal. It was palmed away by the French keeper as far as John McGovern and his close range shot was cleared off the line.
Wing back Yasser Larouci opened the scoring somewhat fortuitously on 21 minutes. His cross-cum-shot from the edge of the area deceived Northern Ireland keeper Dylan Berry and spun into the top corner.
Ten minutes later Berry produced a fine save to deny the French a second as the hosts pushed forward.
U21s boss Schofield made five substitutions at half-time and one of those subs, Dale Taylor, almost levelled proceedings on 60 minutes. He produced a great turn and shot which the French keeper tipped away for a corner.
However, after Sofiane Diop made it 2-0 with a clever lofted finish on 65 minutes, the visitors’ heads dropped.
France extended their lead just a minute later through Amine Gouiri. Diop turned provider by sliding the ball through to the France captain and he dribbled past a couple of markers before firing a low shot into the net from just outside the area. It was a lovely finish.
Down the other end substitute Ross McCausland had an effort from distance, but it drifted wide.
The hosts were four up after 72 minutes. The scorer this time was Maxence Caqueret and it was another drilled long range effort.
Goal number five came in the 76th minute. France broke quickly from inside their own half and the ball was eventually tucked in by Arnaud Kalimuendo-Muinga. He controlled the ball superbly on his chest before guiding it past Berry into the bottom corner.
In the closing stages Les Bleus almost grabbed a sixth. Enzo Le Fee let fly from distance but his blaster cannoned off the bar.
It was a tough night at the office for Northern Ireland’s U21s, who are next in action in a U21 Euro qualifier at home to Spain on 3 June. And that will be another tough assignment.
France U21s: Bajic, Gusto, Kalulu (Omari 58), Larouci (Truffert 69), Lukeba, Camavinga (Gouiri 58), Thuram (Diop 58), Chotard, Le Fée, Ngoumou, Rutter (Kalimuendo 69). Unused subs: Chevalier, Dietsch,, Badiashile, Caqueret.
Northern Ireland U21s: Dylan Berry, Kofi Balmer, Shea Charles, Aaron Donnelly, Finn Cousin-Dawson, Jack Scott, Oisin Smyth, Ethan Galbraith (captain), Alfie McCalmont, Chris McKee, John McGovern. Substitutes: (used) Dale Taylor, Ross McCausland, Sam McClelland, Terry Devlin, Isaac Price, Charlie McCann, Barry Baggley; (unused) Ollie Webber, Charlie Allen, JJ McKiernan, Sean Stewart.