Belfast Telegraph

World Cup 2018

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Donnelly's spot kick keeps European hopes on track

Northern Ireland U21 1  Albania U21 0

By Adam McKendry

Northern Ireland Under-21s made it two wins from two in their Euro 2019 qualifying campaign with a late 1-0 win over Albania at Mourneview Park.

Liam Donnelly held his nerve to score a 95th minute penalty and hand Ian Baraclough's men their second hard-fought victory of the campaign.

Fresh off his move to QPR earlier this week, Paul Smyth was the one who earned the spot kick for Northern Ireland and saved the game from finishing in a goalless stalemate.

It was never a classic, and from the start it was destined to be a game that would be decided by one strike as chances were few and far between.

David Parkhouse, starting as the lone striker, and Smyth both came close to giving the hosts the lead in the first half but neither could test the goalkeeper in a 45-minute period that offered little in terms of opportunities.

The second half looked like it was going to be similar to the first with goalkeepers Conor Mitchell and Gentian Selmani being rarely troubled.

However, Albania nearly took a surprise lead after 68 minutes as a header from Fiorin Durmishaj dropped onto the roof of the net with Mitchell stranded.

Again, it looked like the game would peter out into a draw until Smyth proved to be the difference in injury time.

His dancing feet bamboozled the Albanian defence, and a trailing leg saw him go down and the referee point to the spot.

Donnelly converted, much to the delight of his team-mates and coaches, who couldn't have asked for a better start.

Northern Ireland: Mitchell; McDermott, Donnelly, Johnson, Doherty; Dummigan; Smyth, Gorman, Thompson, Dunwoody; Parkhouse. Substitutes: Hazard, Kennedy, Gordon, Hall, McGonigle, McDonagh, McClean.

ALBANIA: Selmani; Ceka, Toli, L Maloku, Doka; Ndoj, Tafa, Bare; Krymi, Durmishaj, Hebaj. Substitutes: Kastrati, Qollaku, Mustafi, Abazaj, Nuri, E Maloku, Laci.

Belfast Telegraph

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