Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 3 September 2014

Irish aim to end losing streak

Jim Magilton will take charge of Northern Ireland Under-21s against Cyprus

Northern Ireland Under-21s will bid to avoid a sixth straight defeat in European Championship qualifying when they take on Cyprus in Lurgan on Tuesday night.

A 3-0 loss to Italy in Reggio Emilia on Thursday extended a miserable run for the side, who are this week under the watch of Jim Magilton with Stephen Robinson away with the under-17s - seen as the more promising generation of players.

That said, senior team manager Michael O'Neill believes the under-21 squad has a handful of players ready for the next level.

"If the under-21s hadn't had competitive matches this week then we would have taken a couple with us (to Turkey)," he said as his side went down 1-0 in a friendly in Adana.

"Liam (Donnelly) has been doing very well at Fulham and obviously Billy (McKinlay - Northern Ireland assistant and Fulham coach) keeps an eye on how he's getting on.

"We've had him joining us for training when we've got together in London. He's a good player and although he hasn't played for Fulham he's close (for us).

"And we would probably have looked at taking Ryan Brobbell too. He's done well on loan at York, but it's better for them to be with the under-21s when they have a game"

Cyprus have already undone Northern Ireland once, setting the tone for a tough qualifying campaign when they beat them 3-0 in Nicosia in the opening match.

Thirty-three degree heat did not help that night, and certainly will not be a factor in Lurgan, but the challenge remains obvious.

Magilton and his players can take heart from Thursday's performance, when they kept it close until the end - largely thanks to the efforts of goalkeeper Conor Brennan - before conceding two late goals.

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