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Tuesday 27 Feb 2024
Northern Ireland Women retain League B status with draw

Northern Ireland drew one apiece with Montenegro in the second leg of their UEFA Women’s Nations League play-off in Belfast tonight.

Montenegro took the lead in the game but Northern Ireland rallied to secure the draw which means they have retained their place in League B for the European Qualifiers phase of the Women’s Nations League this year. Montenegro stay in League C following the promotion/relegation play-off.

The Montenegrins were much more direct and aggressive than during their 2-0 defeat to Tanya Oxtoby’s team in Podgorica on Friday.

But Northern Ireland did enough in front of just over 4,000 fans at the National Football Stadium at Windsor Park to secure a 3-1 aggregate win.

Although Northern Ireland midfielder Joely Andrews steered an effort wide in the opening minute, it was Montenegro who bossed the early exchanges.

Northern Ireland keeper Maddy Harvey-Clifford produced a fine save to keep out a rasping drive from experienced striker Armisa Kuc in the eighth minute.

Rebecca McKenna drove impressively from deep at the Montenegro defence and cut the ball back, however Andrews and Simone Magill got in each other’s way and the ball rolled out of play.

On 30 minutes Montenegro captain Sladjana Bulatovic fired in a free-kick from the edge of the area which was held comfortably by Harvey-Clifford.

Northern Ireland’s approach play was good at times, and they enjoyed the bulk of the possession, however too often the final ball went astray.

On the stroke of half-time the home side had their best chance of the half.

Magill flicked the ball on to Caragh Hamilton, who raced past her marker and fired in a shot from 10 yards. It was partially blocked by Montenegro keeper Anastasija Krstovic and Jelena Karlicic cleared the ball as it was about to cross the line.

At the start of the second half Bulatovic fired in another shot from distance but Harvey-Clifford was again equal to it.

Marko Maric’s side took the lead on 67 minutes. Karlicic whipped in a corner and Medina Desic evaded the home defence to nod the ball home from three yards.

In the 71st minute Northern Ireland almost fashioned an equaliser. Hamilton sped down the left flank and crossed to Magill who smashed her shot against the bar, while a follow-up strike from substitute Danielle Maxwell was pushed out by Krstovic.

But just two minutes later Magill got her goal. A looping cross from Maxwell was met by Ellie Mason at the back post and her header across goal found Magill, who tucked it home from three yards.

Hamilton’s low drive was blocked by the Montenegro defence as Northern Ireland pushed for a second, while substitute Keri Halliday scooped a shot well over the top.

Down the other end Harvey-Clifford got down well to push away a neat curling effort from Montenegro substitute Masa Tomasevic.

Northern Ireland continued to press and substitute Marissa Callaghan tested the Montenegro keeper with a couple of shots from distance.

However, Oxtoby’s side had to settle for the 1-1 draw in the end.

Northern Ireland: Maddy Harvey-Clifford, Rebecca McKenna, Demi Vance, Sarah McFadden, Laura Rafferty (captain), Joely Andrews, Chloe McCarron, Megan Bell, Simone Magill, Caragh Hamilton, Lauren Wade.

Substitutes: (used) Ellie Mason, Marissa Callaghan, Danielle Maxwell, Keri Halliday; (unused) Shannon Turner (GK), Lauren Perry (GK), Nadene Caldwell, Kelsie Burrows, Toni-Leigh Finnegan, Naomi McLaughlin, Kerry Beattie, Rachel Dugdale.

Montenegro: Anastasija Krstovic, Jovana Saric, Maja Saranovic, Tatjana Djurkovic, Helena Bozic, Jelena Karlicic, Darija Djukic, Sladjana Bulatovic (captain), Medina Desic, Jasna Djokovic, Armisa Kuc.

Substitutes: Ajsa Kalac (GK), Jovana Zugic (GK), Milica Radunovic, Aleksandsra Popovic, Ivana Boricic, Tatjana Osmajic, Sara Simonovic, Katarina Cadenovic, Nadja Djurdjevac, Andrea Janjusevic, Masa Tomasevic, Jelena Vujadinovic.