Northern Ireland Women produced an excellent performance to defeat Czechia 2-0 in an international friendly in Opava tonight.
The Czechs are almost 20 places higher than their opponents in the world rankings, however it was Northern Ireland who dominated proceedings and ran out deserved winners thanks to goals in either half from Sarah McFadden and Kerry Beattie.
Gail Redmond, the interim manager of Northern Ireland’s senior women’s team, made five changes from the 11 that began the 3-0 defeat to Scotland in a friendly last week. Among them was 19-year-old Mid-Ulster Ladies goalkeeper Lilie Woods making her senior debut.
And her new-look side did not let her down as they produced a polished performance brimming with energy in front of 777 fans in balmy conditions at Stadion v Mestskych sadech (Stadium Municipal Gardens) in Opava.
Czech keeper Barbora Votikova comfortably clutched a Demi Vance corner in the early stages before Simone Magill teed up Northern Ireland captain Marissa Callaghan who fired a shot over the top. Then McFadden scooped a shot well wide as the visitors put the pressure on.
Woods got her hands on the ball for the first time when she confidently raced off her line to collect a Klara Cvrckova cross into the area. And then she pushed out a drive from Kamila Dubcova.
On 20 minutes Czechia defender Lucie Jelinkova headed inches over the top from a corner.
Five minutes later Northern Ireland took the lead. Vance fired a corner to the back post where McFadden was on hand to head it home.
Just after the half-hour mark, and a much-needed water break, Megan Bell fed Callaghan down the left and her well-struck snapshot from an angle was pushed away by Votikova. Bell then cleverly fired a free-kick across the face of goal but no-one was on hand to get a touch.
Bell had a long range effort, which drifted just wide, as the girls in green and white continued to enjoy lots of possession.
McFadden superbly blocked a Franny Cerna shot deep inside the area as half-time approached. The back four of McFadden, Rebecca Holloway, Rebecca McKenna and Vance worked tirelessly throughout the first half and beyond.
Czechia introduced AC Milan striker Andrea Staskova and Chelsea midfielder Katerina Svitkova at half-time in a bid to bolster their attack.
However, Northern Ireland stunned the hosts by grabbing a second on 47 minutes. A goal-kick from Woods found Bell and she flicked the ball on to Caragh Hamilton, who in turn headed it forward and sped towards goal down the centre of the pitch. Kerry Beattie, who had just come on as a substitute at half-time, ran alongside Hamilton as she punted the ball forward and eventually it fell into the striker's path and she coolly slotted it into the bottom corner from 12 yards. It was a neat finish.
Nadene Caldwell blasted a shot over the bar as Northern Ireland continued to play on the front foot. Player of the match Callaghan clipped the ball to the back post to Bell and her close range volley was pushed away by Votikova.
On 57 minutes Staskova planted a free-kick over the bar before Woods and McFadden combined to block a goal-bound Czech effort.
Hamilton spun on another Callaghan delivery into the area, however her shot drifted wide of the upright.
Woods punched a Svitkova dead ball strike clear as the Czechs tried to up the tempo.
On 79 minutes Hamilton broke clear of the Czechia defence and bore down on goal, however her shot was pushed over the bar by Votikova.
Woods, who had had very little to do during the game, plucked a cross from Czech sub Kristyna Ruzickova out of the air before Svitkova’s shot from distance flew over the bar.
Deep into added time another 19-year-old Northern Ireland goalkeeper, Rachael Norney, made her senior debut from the bench.
As the final whistle approached substitute Rachel Furness had a shot blocked inside the area by the Czech defence and that was the last of the action during a great night’s work by the Northern Ireland team, who currently occupy 45th place in the Coca-Cola FIFA Women’s World Ranking list compared to Czechia’s 27th position.
The victory will provide a huge confidence boost for Northern Ireland ahead of their first UEFA Women’s Nations League campaign this autumn.
Czechia: Barbora Votikova, Alena Peckova, Aneta Pochmanova, Lucie Jelenkova, Anna Dlaskova, Klara Cahynova (captain), Kamila Dubcova, Eliska Sonntagova, Franny Cerna, Jana Zufankova, Klara Cvrckova.
Substitutes: Olivie Lukasova (GK), Barbora Ruzickova (GK), Gabriela Slajsova, Michaela Khyrova, Dominika Huvarova, Andrea Staskova, Katerina Svitkova, Barbora Polcarova, Katerina Kotrcova, Kristyna Ruzickova, Aneta Dedinova.
Northern Ireland: Lilie Woods, Rebecca McKenna, Demi Vance, Rebecca Holloway, Sarah McFadden, Nadene Caldwell, Caragh Hamilton, Marissa Callaghan (captain), Simone Magill, Emily Wilson, Megan Bell.
Substitutes: (used) Kerry Beattie, Lauren Wade, Rachel Furness, Joely Andrews, Kelsie Burrows, Rachael Norney (GK); (unused) Shannon Turner (GK), Fi Morgan, Chloe McCarron, Caitlin McGuinness, Danielle Maxwell, Emma McMaster.
Image: Sarah McFadden rises above the Czech defence to score the opening goal.