Northern Ireland’s Women’s Under-15 development team made it two wins out of two when they defeated hosts Bulgaria in a four-team UEFA development tournament.
They followed up their 2-0 win against Montenegro’s WU15s on Friday with a 2-1 victory against the Bulgarians yesterday afternoon.
It was a hard fought win against strong opponents at the Hadzhi Dimitar Stadium in Sliven, which is hosting all the games in the tournament.
Northern Ireland played into the wind in the first half and had to repel several attacks from the home team.
However, it was the visitors who took the lead on 12 minutes. Anna Walsh got on the end of a clearance and fed the ball to Jessica McGuinness who fired a cross towards the back post where Sophie Hutchinson volleyed it home from close range.
Goalkeeper Abbie Smith produced a great save midway through the half to keep the scores level.
But on 30 minutes Bulgaria grabbed an equaliser through a wind assisted blaster from 35 yards.
It was a tough first half for the Northern Ireland girls, playing into gusts hitting nearly 50mph, and they were fortunate to go into the break all square.
Striker Walsh’s hold-up play was excellent as she drew fouls to take the pressure off the defence and midfield.
The girls went in to the second half with the wind at their backs initially before it died off completely midway through the second half.
It was a more even contest after the break with Bulgaria’s chances mostly coming from set pieces.
The Northern Ireland players defended well and kept the ball much better, although they struggled to create chances.
However, they did manage to conjure up a winner on 82 minutes. And it was a peach of a goal.
Substitute Lucy Kelly played the ball inside to McGuinness who was impeded and won a free-kick. McGuinness dusted herself down and stepped up to take it – and she found the top corner with a sweetly struck shot from 25 yards out.
After the final whistle McGuinness was presented with the player of the match award by head coach Stephen Graham.
Northern Ireland’s final opponents in the east-central Bulgarian city will be Faroe Islands on Wednesday (5 October). The game is scheduled to start at 2pm UK time at the home ground of OFC Sliven 2000, who play in the third tier of Bulgarian senior football.
Northern Ireland WU15s v Bulgaria WU15s: Abbie Smith, Emma Brown, Lillie Horner, Caitlin Carlisle, Ellie McLarnon, Sophie Pollock, Mia Reilly, Sophie Hutchinson, Anna Walsh, Jessica McGuinness, Kayliann Clayton. Substitutes: (used) Niamh Hassan, Lucy Kelly, Caitie McGurnaghan, Isla Mitchell (GK), Mia Snoddy, Morgan Beattie, Emi Wynne, Natnicha Mills; (unused) Molly Weir.