Northern Ireland Under-21s boss John Schofield has urged Northern Ireland fans to show their support for his team when they take on Scotland U21s in Belfast tomorrow.
The U21s are set to face the Scots in a friendly at Blanchflower Stadium in the east of the city (2.30pm kick-off) – and it’s free entry to the game and the match will be streamed live on the Northern Ireland National Team's YouTube channel.
Schofield (pictured, below) said: “Having fans in the stadium makes a massive difference and the fact that it’s free is of course even better.
“We have had so many games without fans during the Covid pandemic, and rightly so I should add, however now is a great opportunity for local football fans to come and see this new exciting group of players, and in a local derby no less.
“Any footballer will attest that there’s no better feeling than playing in front of a crowd and I hope we get a great turnout from the locals to cheer the lads on.”
Tomorrow’s match is the first of two friendlies against Scotland U21s this month. The second game is at St Mirren’s SMiSA Stadium in Paisley on Sunday (25 September) when the kick-off will be at 2pm.
Schofield’s squad for the two friendlies shows no less than 12 changes from the one chosen to compete against Spain and Lithuania in U21 Euro qualifiers back in June.
Many of those players are now too old to play for the U21s, however the squad still features several players with U21 and even senior level experience.
The U21s boss said tomorrow’s game marks the start of a new journey and he revealed he has been impressed with the attitude of the new faces in the panel, including several who previously played for Northern Ireland’s U19s.
“We try to create an atmosphere where they want to be here, where they want to develop,” he explained.
Four players who were part of the senior panel for the UEFA Nations League quadruple header in early summer are included. They are Rangers midfielder Charlie McCann, Sunderland defender Trai Hume, Middlesbrough midfielder Caolan Boyd-Munce and Leeds United midfielder Alfie McCalmont.
On top of that Barrow defender Sam McClelland and Nottingham Forest striker Dale Taylor, who were involved with the U21s in June, also have experience of being part of the senior set-up.
Schofield said the games against the Scots would provide an opportunity for both experienced and new players to get minutes on the pitch. He added that the more experienced players would help to lead the new-look group.
Burnley defender Dane McCullough, who has stepped up from the U19s, said he was delighted to be called up and is enjoying being part of the U21s set-up.
He also revealed he is hoping to follow in the footsteps of his cousin Luke McCullough (Glentoran) who earned six senior caps between 2014 and 2018 and was part of the Euro 2016 squad.