Northern Ireland’s Women’s Under-15 development team have completed a four-team UEFA development tournament in Bulgaria with a 100% record.
They made it three wins out of three when they defeated Faroe Islands 2-0 yesterday.
After beating Montenegro’s WU15s 2-0 and a 2-1 win against the Bulgarians in their opening two games, they were determined to deliver once again when they came up against the Faroese, who had also won their opening two games. And they kept their best performance to the last match.
Showing four changes from the starting line-up against the Bulgarians, Northern Ireland took a while to find their rhythm at the Hadzhi Dimitar Stadium in Sliven, which hosted all the games in the tournament.
The Faroes started brightly in what was an entertaining game of football. They pressed high and created a big chance after five minutes, however Northern Ireland keeper Abbie Smith produced a fine stop to keep them out.
Northern Ireland grew into the game in the east-central Bulgarian city and looked dangerous in wide areas in particular.
Kayliann Clayton came closest to scoring in the first half, cutting inside from the left and getting shots away. The Faroe Islands keeper made some fine saves in the first period, including denying Clayton twice.
The Faroese continued to look dangerous and the Northern Ireland defence had to be alert to prevent them from getting in behind. Niamh Hassan, usually a central midfielder, had to play out of position at centre back alongside captain Caitlin Carlisle after Ellie McLarnon had picked up a knock.
While the first half was pretty even, Northern Ireland were on top after the break. They played some excellent football as they dominated the midfield and created quite a few chances.
Second half substitute Lucy Kelly made a big impact. The Faroes keeper pushed a curling effort from Kelly on to the crossbar and then she hit the bar with a crisp strike.
However, Kelly made her mark by providing the assists for the two goals.
Northern Ireland opened the scoring on 68 minutes through another substitute, Sophie Hutchinson.
An excellent switch of play by substitute Morgan Beattie found Kelly down the left and she cut the ball back to Hutchinson on the edge of the area - and her strike across the goalkeeper nestled in the bottom corner. It was a fine finish.
The second goal came 10 minutes later. Kelly’s excellent corner found Jessica McGuinness at the edge of the six-yard box and she beat the keeper with a powerful header.
Afterwards head coach Stephen Graham said it had been “a fantastic tournament” for the squad and staff and he said several of the players have the attributes to perform well on the international stage in the future.
He further pointed out: “The players saved their best performance for the final game. They were dominant in possession and created a lot of chances. The most pleasing thing is that they implemented and applied all the work done in training in the game with success.
“It was also pleasing to see the development and growth of individuals, while the team produced good performances on a consistent basis.”
The player of the match in game three was Kayliann Clayton. The award was presented by Graham.
And Sophie Pollock was voted Northern Ireland’s player of the tournament. The award was presented by Graham and coach Heather Mearns.
Northern Ireland WU15s v Faroe Islands WU15s: Abbie Smith, Emma Brown, Caitlin Carlisle (captain), Niamh Hassan, Caitie McGurnaghan, Sophie Pollock, Jessica McGuinness, Natnicha Mills, Mia Reilly, Molly Weir, Kayliann Clayton. Substitutes: (used) Lucy Kelly, Mia Snoddy, Emi Wynne, Morgan Beattie, Sophie Hutchinson, Isla Mitchell (GK), Anna Walsh; (unused) Lillie Horner, Ellie McLarnon.