Northern Ireland’s Under-21s lost out 2-1 to Serbia’s U21s in their fourth match in the U21 Euro 2025 qualifying series.
The Group F encounter at Mourneview Park in Lurgan tonight was a pretty even yet often tetchy affair.
Serbia grabbed the winner late on after Northern Ireland had equalised through a Ciaran McGuckin penalty just after half-time.
U21s manager Tommy Wright made four changes from the team that started against Azerbaijan last week.
Central defender Sam McClelland missed out after picking up an injury in training, while Aaron Donnelly was suspended after receiving his marching orders during the 1-0 win in Baku. Charlie McCann and Patrick Kelly dropped to the subs’ bench.
Wright’s side looked energetic throughout as they battled hard against a physically strong Serbian team.
In the fourth minute McGuckin was played in by Charlie Allen, however the striker’s crisp low drive was stopped by Serbian goalkeeper Veljko Ilic at the near post.
Serbia took the lead on 15 minutes when Sean Stewart’s forward pass was intercepted by Serbia captain Vladimir Lucic down the flank and he cut inside before unleashing a powerful shot into the bottom corner from 16 yards.
In the 24th minute Allen almost drew the home side level with a rasping shot, however the ball was pushed past the post by the Serbian keeper.
Serbia, who lost 9-1 against group top seeds England last week, came close again when midfielder Stefan Mitrovic smashed a shot into the side netting.
Four minutes after the break Northern Ireland were awarded a penalty when Serbian striker Marko Lazetic elbowed Tommy Fogarty off the ball inside the area. It happened just after Serbian keeper Ilic had collected a corner and was launching the ball down the field.
McGuckin, who scored against Azerbaijan last week, stepped up to take the spot kick and smashed it down the middle of the goal to make it 1-1.
On the hour mark JJ McKiernan raced clear of the Serbian defence but Ilic saved at his feet and the danger was cleared.
Mitrovic stung the palms of Northern Ireland keeper Stephen McMullan before centre back Uros Drezgic hammered the ball over the top from close range.
Serbian defender Stefan Lekovic headed straight at McMullan as the visitors attempted to pile on the pressure.
In the 82nd minute Serbia grabbed what turned out to be the winner when Milos Pantovic poked home a bouncing ball from close range. It was a scrappy goal.
Serbia substitute Milos Lukovic scuffed an effort wide of the target and a Drezgic strike from a free-kick was collected by McMullan.
McMullan produced a fine save to keep out a Lucic blaster as the visitors looked for a third, however they had to settle for the 2-1 win.
Northern Ireland: Stephen McMullan, Carl Johnston (captain), Sean Stewart, Michael Forbes, Tommy Fogarty, Jamie McDonnell, Terry Devlin, Charlie Allen, Ciaran McGuckin, JJ McKiernan, Justin Devenny.
Substitutes: (used) Chris McKee, Paddy Kelly, Charlie Lindsay, Ross McCausland; (unused) Josh Clarke (GK), Ruairi McConville, Charlie McCann, Micheal Glynn, Darren Robinson.
Serbia: Velijko Ilic, Mihajlo Ilic, Stefan Lekovic, Uros Drezgic, Mitar Ergelas, Stefan Mitrovic, Mihailo Stevanovic, Aljosa Vasic, Marko Lazetic, Milos Pantovic, Vladimir Lucic.
Substitutes: Andrija Katic (GK), Viktor Rogan, David Petrovic, Aleksa Matic, Igor Miladinovic, Milos Lukovic, Luka Subotic, Nikola Jojic, Nikola Stankovic.