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Friday 23 Feb 2024
Northern Ireland Women secure play-off win in Podgorica

Northern Ireland eased to a comfortable 2-0 victory over Montenegro in the first leg of their UEFA Women’s Nations League play-off.

Second half goals from winger Lauren Wade and left back Demi Vance secured the deserved win at the Gradski Stadion in Podgorica.

Northern Ireland senior women's team boss Tanya Oxtoby said if her team got the performance right in the Montenegrin capital then the result would follow – and her prediction was spot on.

It means the girls in green and white carry a two-goal advantage into the return leg at the National Football Stadium at Windsor Park on Tuesday (27 February).

Montenegro, who were without suspended defender Maja Saranović, had the first opportunity of the game, experienced and dangerous forward Armisa Kuc heading over the top from a corner just over a minute in.

Northern Ireland’s first chance fell to Wade. The ball was slipped to her by Rebecca McKenna inside the area, however Wade scooped her shot well over the bar from around 10 yards out.

Danielle Maxwell picked out Sarah McFadden with a long cross and the defender got her head to the ball inside the area, but Montenegro keeper Anastasija Krstovic comfortably gathered it. And minutes later the keeper blocked a Maxwell shot with her legs.

On 13 minutes a sweeping move saw McKenna race out of defence into the opposition’s half. She then fed Joely Andrews who in turn played the ball to Wade and her deflected low drive went inches past the post.

At that stage Northern Ireland were on top, however the next chance fell to Montenegro when captain Sladjana Bulatovic dragged a shot wide of the upright, and then Kuc jinked her way into the box where Maxwell deflected her shot into the side netting.

The build-up play from Northern Ireland was good in the opening half hour, although the final ball often let them down, and they continued to dominate possession for the remainder of the first half.

Kuc shot straight at Northern Ireland keeper Maddy Harvey-Clifford as the interval approached, while Laura Rafferty got on the end of a Vance corner only to see her header drop wide of the post.

After the break the visitors continued to enjoy the bulk of possession.

On 54 minutes Krstovic saved a well struck low shot from Wade, and then Vance shot straight at the keeper. Andrews found Maxwell in the area and her glancing header drifted wide.

Marko Maric’s Montenegro side, whose tactic was to sit back and hope to catch the visitors on the break, created very little across the piece.

On 62 minutes Vance let fly from distance and the Montenegro keeper pushed her stinging shot around the post. It was a fine strike.

In the 71st minute Northern Ireland deservedly fashioned the breakthrough. Vance supplied a looping cross into the area and the ball was headed into the bottom corner by Wade.

Ten minutes later Rafferty met another Vance delivery, this time from a corner, however her header dropped on to the top of the net.

At the start of added time Northern Ireland got their second. Substitutes Caragh Hamilton and Megan Bell combined to work the ball to McKenna and her cross into the danger zone was cleverly headed into the top corner by Vance.

The overall winner of the two-leg play-off will be in League B in the European Qualifiers phase of the Women’s Nations League this year, while the losing team will be in League C.

Oxtoby’s squad, who finished third in Group B1 of the inaugural edition of the competition, are aiming to retain their spot in League B, and today’s win is an important step towards that goal.

Montenegro, who finished as runners-up to Azerbaijan in Group C3, will need to up their game considerably in Belfast if they are to reach League B instead.

Montenegro: Anastasija Krstovic, Jovana Saric, Aleksandra Popovic, 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, Jelena Petrovic, Ivana Boricic, Tatjana Osmajic, Sara Simonovic, Anastasija Rakocevic, Nadja Djurdjevac, Andrea Janjusevic, Masa Tomasevic, Jelena Vujadinovic.

Northern Ireland: Maddy Harvey-Clifford, Rebecca McKenna, Demi Vance, Sarah McFadden, Laura Rafferty, Joely Andrews, Chloe McCarron, Marissa Callaghan (captain), Simone Magill, Danielle Maxwell, Lauren Wade.

Substitutes: (used) Ellie Mason, Caragh Hamilton, Megan Bell, Nadene Caldwell, Rachel Dugdale; (unused) Shannon Turner (GK), Lauren Perry (GK), Keri Halliday, Kelsie Burrows, Toni-Leigh Finnegan, Emily Wilson, Kerry Beattie.