Belfast Telegraph

Net gains for cool Smyth as Magilton's boys make big point

Ukraine 1 - Northern Ireland 1

By Adam McKendry

Northern Ireland's Under-21s picked up just their second point of their European Championship qualifying campaign with a hard-fought 1-1 draw with Ukraine in Kiev.

Linfield striker Paul Smyth scored Northern Ireland's goal after 12 minutes before the Ukrainians equalised through striker Artem Besedin.

Even though the game mattered little in terms of the final outlook of the group, with both Northern Ireland and Ukraine out of the running for further progression, this was a significant step in the right direction for Jim Magilton's side.

Set up with the counter-attack in mind, Northern Ireland initially soaked up all of the hosts' pressure before striking.

The visitors broke away with pace, allowing Smyth to take the ball inside his own half and drive forward before expertly slotting home beyond the grasp of keeper Demytro Bezruk.

But their lead lasted no more than three minutes as the home side came back strongly, with Besedin heading home from a free-kick.

Michael Duffy and Mark Sykes both had excellent chances either side of half-time to put Northern Ireland ahead once again, but they failed to beat Bezruk.

Instead, the visitors had to do a lot of defending in the final 15 minutes to deny their hosts a winner, and to secure the point they deserved for their efforts.

Magilton's side finish their qualifying campaign at Windsor Park against France on Tuesday (5.45pm) with the visitors still in with a shot of qualifying.

Belfast Telegraph

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