Northern Ireland’s Under-16s produced some fine football as they defeated Estonia’s U16s 3-1 in a friendly in Finland this morning.
It was the second game this week for the U16s at the Jari Litmanen Arena in Eerikkila. They were narrowly defeated 3-2 by Finland’s U16s on Tuesday.
Showing six changes from the 11 that started the friendly against the Finns, Northern Ireland dominated the play for long spells in the rainy conditions, and created several chances, although they also had to show their defensive qualities at times.
In the fourth minute Northern Ireland won a free-kick in a dangerous area. Callum Burnside’s delivery was cleared by the Estonia defence.
Four minutes later Estonia scored with their first attack. Northern Ireland keeper Josh Gracey failed to collect a cross from the right and the ball dropped to Estonia captain Patrik Kristal who slotted it home from close range.
On 12 minutes Estonia striker Mait Eenmaa produced a great run across the area after cutting inside from the left wing but drove his shot wide of the upright.
Kris Lindsay’s side upped the tempo. Burnside shot straight at the keeper, while Cole Brannigan clipped a shot into the side netting after Burnside and Chris Atherton had combined well to set him up.
The equaliser came on the half-hour mark. Brannigan’s low cross from the left wing was neatly tucked into the bottom corner by Burnside.
Three minutes later Northern Ireland took the lead. Atherton cut in from the right, shook off his marker and sped towards goal before beating Estonia keeper Ralf Kaljumae with a low drive from 17 yards. It was a superb piece of play and a great finish.
Brannigan, who was torturing the Estonian defence at this stage, fired wide as half-time approached and then had a dangerous cross cleared, while Northern Ireland defender Calum Moreland scooped an effort over the bar on the stroke of half-time.
Just after the break Brannigan shot straight at the keeper, however most of the action was down the other end during the early part of the second half. The Northern Ireland defence had to repel a handful of Estonian attacks as their captain Kristal sparkled.
Estonia produced a sweeping counter attack on 70 minutes which could have produced an equaliser, however substitute Marlon Liivaru drove his shot into the side netting when well placed.
On 76 minutes Gracey dived to his right to push away a stinging shot from Kristjan Troon.
In the 78th minute a looping Brannigan pass found Northern Ireland substitute Troy Savage just inside the area but he shot straight at the keeper.
Northern Ireland grabbed their third just a minute later. Substitute Oscar Kelly played a one-two with Brannigan before coolly sweeping the ball home.
Gracey was called into action again to thwart Estonia sub Artur Dyakiv, while Northern Ireland substitute Sean Corry curled an effort just over the top.
In added time another sub, Caoimhan McDermot, put a header over the bar and Kelly’s scuffed shot was easily collected by the keeper.
The game was the U16 Schoolboys’ team’s last competitive encounter before the Victory Shield competition in the Republic of Ireland at the end of this month when Lindsay’s side will face the Republic, Wales and Scotland.
The U16s team is run by the Irish FA in conjunction with the Northern Ireland Schools’ FA.
Northern Ireland U16s: Josh Gracey, Conor McVeigh, Callum Cowan, Calum Moreland, Noah McDonnell, Blaine McClure (captain), Chris Atherton, Dylan Stitt, Oili McCart, Callum Burnside, Cole Brannigan. Substitutes: (used) Oscar Kelly, Kenzie Beattie, Conor Haughey, Caoimhan McDermot, Troy Savage, Sean Corry, Fionn Duffy; (unused) Will Murdock (GK), Jack Doherty.
Estonia U16s: Ralf Kaljumae, Fjodor Jekimov, Jevgeni Tsernjakov, Hubert Liiv, Raian Soosalu, Matthias Limberg, Maxim Vikman, Mait Eenmaa, Patrik Kristal (captain), Aleksandr Lohmatov, Kristjan Troon. Substitutes: Ken Ristjan Molder (GK), Artur Dyakiv (GK), Airon Kollo, Mark Zahharov, Kristjan Sommer, Artur Severev, Dylan Sal-Al-Saller, Patrick Bahval, Maximilian Skvortsov, Marlon Liivaru, Romet Nigula, Kaur Kippar.