Belfast Telegraph

U17 Girls: Northern Ireland fail to halt England

Northern Ireland 1 England 2: Northern Ireland have bowed out of the Women’s Under-17 European Championship despite a valiant display against a classy England outfit at Mourneview Park last night.

My ball: Northern Ireland's Caragh Milligan fights for possession with England's Paige Williams during last nights UEFA Women’s U17 Championship match at Mourneview Park PResseyeBY mARTIN MAWHINNEY

UEFA U17 GIRLS’ CHAMPIONSHIP

Niall Curneen’s girls may not yet have picked up a point in Group Six, but they will go into their final match against Israel on Sunday with the belief they can pick up three points, after a fine effort against one of Europe’s top sides.

Indeed the Northern Ireland girls may have taken an early lead, thanks to an unexpected slip-up in the English defence. However, even Lauren Brennan appeared to be taken by surprise, as she collected the ball and under-hit her shot straight at Jessica Myers.

England showed their attacking threat with the energetic Lucy Whipp bursting down the wing before sliding the ball in to Olivia Fergusson — but the Aston Villa striker gave Nicole Adams an easy save.

Unfortunately for Northern Ireland, their Arsenal-based keeper could do nothing as Katie Zelem nodded home a close range header from Rosella Ayane’s cross in the seventh minute.

The lead could have been doubled 15 minutes later, but as the ball came in from Whipp, it was touched on by Fergusson and Maria Quinn did enough to keep Ayan at bay near the back post.

This was just one example of an impressive defensive performance by the Sion Mills Swifts right-back, who, along with centre-backs Alana McShane and Aoife Curran and left-back Jessica Foy proved difficult to break down.

Further up the field, Aoife Curran was a dominant force in the midfield and showed her potency from set-pieces too, as she drifted a well-crafted free kick into the England area, but Zara O’Hagan couldn’t get a head to it.

Northern Ireland levelled matters three minutes into the second-half. Myers could only look on in vain as an audacious 40-yard free-kick from Foy flew past her and into the goal.

It was no more than Northern Ireland deserved and they began to turn up the pressure on their opponents, at times looking the more likely to go ahead.

Foy, in particular, was outstanding and the goal seemed to energise her in defence, with neither Ayane nor Fergusson able to find a way past her for most of the second-half.

At the other end, Northern Ireland were pushing for the crucial winner to keep their hopes of elite stage qualification alive. The English defence seemed to open up as Brennan dashed towards goal in the 54th minute, but her shot glanced narrowly over the bar.

Shortly after, a dipping 30-yard effort from Paige Williams came just as close, serving as a reminder that England were still a danger.

Then, with 12 minutes left, the visitors delivered the crucial blow — a shot from Abbey-Leigh Stringer from just outside the area. Adams touched the ball, but couldn’t keep the ball from hitting the back of the net.

This was an encouraging effort from Northern Ireland and although they will have nothing more than pride to play for at Seaview on Sunday (2pm kick-off), that alone is a prize in itself for our international players.

ENGLAND: Myers, Bartrip, Williams, Steele, Mannion, Stewart, Ayane (Humphrey 78), Stringer (Kelsh 68) Fergusson (Walker 62), Zelem, Whipp.

NORHERN IRELAND: Adams, Quinn, Foy (Sheridan 79), McDade, McShane, Curran, Milligan, O’Hagan, Brennan (McKane 75), Feehan, Campbell (Dane 22).

Referee: Dimitrina Milkova (Bulgaria).

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