Northern Ireland’s senior women’s team promised they would go all out to put points on the board against Albania this evening – and they eventually delivered.
After a frustrating first half in a Women’s Nations League encounter at Seaview, in which they missed some gilt-edged chances, they managed to defeat the dogged Albanians by a goal to nil.
Lauren Wade, earning her 50th cap, scored the only goal of the game, however Northern Ireland should arguably have scored more in the League B Group 1 contest.
The win in front of 1600 fans meant Northern Ireland moved into second position in the UWNL B1 table after the Republic of Ireland extended their lead at the top with a 4-0 away win against Hungary. Albania drew 1-1 with the Hungarians last week.
New Northern Ireland boss Tanya Oxtoby freshened up the team for their second game in the inaugural UEFA Women’s Nations League. She made six changes to the team that started her first game in charge – the 3-0 defeat to the Republic in Dublin on Saturday.
Defender Sarah McFadden donned the captain’s armband as she earned her 100th cap, while winger Wade wore the armband for the second half to mark her 50th cap.
There was an early scare for Northern Ireland when Albania delivered a dangerous cross into the area from a free-kick, however the danger was eventually cleared.
Down the other end Northern Ireland midfielder Megan Bell whipped a cross into the danger zone, but there was no-one there to meet it, while Nadene Caldwell had an effort blocked
Northern Ireland had a penalty claim when McFadden was pulled to the ground inside the area as a corner was being delivered, however the referee waved play on.
Then Albanian midfielder Gresa Barisha shot wide of the upright as the visitors launched an attack.
Just after the 20-minute mark Wade hammered the ball against a post before Albanian keeper Viona Rexhepi made a point blank save from Simone Magill.
On 37 minutes Vance found Magill with a pinpoint cross inside the six-yard box, however the striker’s glancing header went inches wide of the post.
Kirsty McGuinness fired in a cross which was met by Bell. Her close range header hit the back of an Albanian defender and was cleared.
In the 42nd minute Vance let fly from distance, but her effort drifted just wide of the upright. Wade crossed to McGuinness at the back post, however she failed to connect with the ball properly and it was cleared once again.
Northern Ireland began the second half on the front foot and they took the lead in the 57th minute through Wade.
Bell crossed to the back post where the ball was met by Caldwell. Her powerful header was superbly pushed out by Rexhepi, however Caldwell played the rebound across goal to Wade who tucked it home from close range.
On 66 minutes McFadden rose highest in the area as Vance delivered a corner. The defender’s thumping header was bound for the bottom corner until Rexhepi dived full length to keep it out.
Minutes later Bell produced a low drive which was deflected inches wide of the post as Northern Ireland went in search of a second. Vance fired over the top after being teed up by Wade, who minutes later blasted a shot inches past the upright.
Substitute Joely Andrews had a close range shot saved by the keeper as Northern Ireland continued to push forward.
In added time McFadden nearly produced a second. Her strike from distance sailed just wide.
Right at the death Magill crossed for substitute Marissa Callaghan and her powerful header was pushed over the top by Rexhepi. It was a brilliant save.
Northern Ireland: Shannon Turner, Rebecca McKenna, Demi Vance, Sarah McFadden (captain), Rebecca Holloway, Nadene Caldwell, Chloe McCarron, Megan Bell, Simone Magill, Kirsty McGuinness, Lauren Wade.
Substitutes: (used) Joely Andrews, Emily Wilson, Rachel Furness, Marissa Callaghan; (unused) Rachael Norney (GK), Lilie Woods (GK), Ellie Mason, Caragh Hamilton, Laura Rafferty, Caitlin McGuinness, Kerry Beattie, Abbie Magee.
Albania: Viona Rexhepi, Matilda Gjergji, Arbenita Curraj, Sara Maliqi, Lucie Gjini, Armela Tukaj, Alma Hila, Gresa Barisha, Maria Bashka, Megi Doci (captain), Kristina Maksuti.
Substitutes: Antigona Hyska (GK), Klesjana Spaho, Stella Toma, Aglia Iliadhi, Valenita Troka, Jehona Coka, Bora Fucia, Mikaela Metalla.