What they lacked in experience, they made up for in spirit and courage.
Two second half goals sunk Northern Ireland in Connecticut yesterday but Nigel Worthington’s inexperienced side weren’t lambs to the slaughter against Turkey.
Without 17 regular internationals, fans feared an avalanche of goals and an embarrassing defeat but Worthington can count the positives today after his young side refused to be blown away in stifling heat.
Among the shining lights were 17-year-old Johnny Gorman who put his school commitments to one side to showcase his significant potential.
Rangers starlet Andy Little was another player who won admirers — not just for his defensive role.
The 21-year-old embarked on a few lung busting runs while Rory Patterson, despite performing a lonely job in attack, retained possession and showed considerable strength.
The demands of the Irish League and international stage may be contrasting, but goalkeeper Alan Blayney, Robert Garrett, Jamie Mulgrew, Kevin Braniff and substitute Colin Coates can be proud of their contributions in an uphill task of Mount Everest proportions.
Turkey were unable to penetrate Northern Ireland until the 47th minute when Sercan Yilidrim fired a right-foot shot into the bottom corner past Blayney.
It was a huge blow for Worthington’s side to concede a goal so early after the re-start but their more experienced opponents only found the net once more.
The second goal arrived in the 72nd minute when Emre set up Fenerbahce striker Semih Senturk who drilled a low shot past the helpless Blayney from 10 yards.
Any further goals would have been harsh on Worthington’s battling troops.
It was always going to be a steep learning curve for the players but this match will have enhanced their football education — and left them a taste of wanting more big time action.
The heat was unbearable and tiredness inevitably crept in as the match unfolded, but Northern Ireland, although stretched at times, rarely looked like they would simply roll over to their superior opponents.
Blayney’s handing was excellent and while he was guilty of one almost costly misunderstanding with Gareth McAuley, he did produce a stunning fingertip save to push a Colin Kazim-Richards shot onto the bar after the interval.
Perhaps the floodgates may have been forced open earlier if Tuncay had drilled in the opener,
rather than blasting the ball over the bar as early as the third minute. The former Middlesbrough striker should have found the target and the early scare had fans fearing the worst but the expected bombardment never arrived.
Kazim-Richards headed over from a corner and Blayney saved low at his left post as a corner deflected off debutant Wolves teenager Gorman.
Sercan’s opener was well worked and executed, but Northern Ireland responded magnificently to the setback.
Gorman found the energy to surge into the penalty area and fired a dangerous cross along the six yard box but no white shirt was there to take advantage.
Little went on another wonderful sprint on the right and fed Patterson. The Glentoran new boy attempted an ambitious over-head free-kick which dropped the wrong side of the woodwork.
Blayney’s golden moment came in the 56th-minute when he redirected Kazim-Richards’ powerful drive onto the crossbar and as
Senturk fired just wide, it seemed that a tiring Northern Ireland would be carved open at ease.
Captain Stephen Craigan, an assured presence at the back, cleared off the line as Tuncay moved in to convert a Sercan cross and Sarioglu headed over.
Senturk’s strike had Northern Ireland on the ropes again and Arda Turan rifled a right-foot shot wide of the post as Turkey finished strongly.
Rory McArdle, Colin Coates, James Lawrie and Josh Magennis all came on as second-half substitutes, as did Watford's Michael Bryan to make his senior international debut. Critics will continue to question the value of the trip, as Northern Ireland prepare to take on World-Cup bound Chile on Sunday night, but Worthington will have caught a glimpse of a few gems set to sparkle in the future.
Northern Ireland: Blayney, Little, McAuley, Craigan, McGivern, Garrett, Mulgrew, C Evans, Braniff, Gorman, Patterson. Subs: McArdle (for Braniff), Coates (for McGivern 75), Maginess (for Patterson 60), Lawrie (for Garrett 80), Bryan (for Gorman 65). Sub not used: McGovern.
Turkey: Kivrak, Sarioglu, Cetin, Toraman, Erkin, Hamit Altintop, Inan, Nuri Sahin, Ipek, Kazim-Richards, Sanli. Subs: Bolat, Zan, Belozoglu, Senturk, Turan, Topal, Gulselam, Ozturk, Bahadir, Koybasi, Yildirim, Uysal.
Referee: Terry Vaughn (USA)