Belfast Telegraph

Glenavon star Sykes leads Northern Ireland U21s to top spot

N Ireland 4 Estonia 2

By Steven Beacom

Glenavon's Mark Sykes was the star of the show on his home patch as the Northern Ireland Under-21 side secured a vital win over Estonia at Mourneview Park.

The 4-2 victory took Ian Baraclough's side top of the Group Two table in their qualifying campaign for the 2019 European Championship.

Whether they stay there is highly debatable with Spain big favourites in the section, but this was a highly encouraging performance from the Northern Ireland youngsters who have now won three games out of four in the competition.

Ryan Johnson and Dale Gorman netted for Northern Ireland in an entertaining first half, then Sykes took over.

Just after the hour mark the Glenavon ace gave Baraclough's team a 3-2 lead and he followed that up with a fantastic long range effort which cannoned off the crossbar and hit the Estonian goalkeeper before ending up in the back of the net on 74 minutes.

The first 45 minutes proved to be a rollercoaster for those in attendance, as eye-catching as it was dramatic.

Just two minutes had elapsed when Northern Ireland broke the deadlock with Johnson finishing off Jordan Thompson's cross.

It was a fantastic start for the home side. What manager Baraclough would have been looking for was to build on the early goal and remain steady at the back.

He did not get his wish. With 20 minutes on the clock Northern Ireland found themselves 2-1 down and both Estonia goals should have been avoided.

Frank Liviak netted on 11 minutes from close range and the man at the heart of that effort, visiting captain Rauno Sappinen, gave the visitors the lead shortly after. The impressive Sappinen deserved his goal - the youngster has bags of tricks and was not afraid to show them in Lurgan.

He plays for Flora in Estonia but if his talent continues to blossom he won't be there for long.

The equaliser came from Gorman and what a beauty it was. After a scramble and a penalty appeal, the ball broke to the Stevenage ace who smashed home a stunning 25 yard drive.

Like father, like son. Many a time his dad Tony Gorman delivered dynamic goals like that from long distance when playing at Windsor Park.

It was exactly what was required a couple of minutes prior to half-time.

Then that man Sykes sparkled.

N Ireland: Mitchell, Dummigan, Donnelly, Johnson, Gorman, Kennedy, Thompson, Sykes, Doherty, McDonagh. Subs: Paul (for Gorman, 58 mins), Smyth (for Kennedy, 76 mins), Owens (for Thompson, 81 mins), Hazard, Doherty, McGonigle, McClean.

Estonia: Igonen, Kaldma, Lilander, Slein, Miller, Ainsalu, Jarva, Sappinen, Liivak, Grauberg, Lukka. Subs: Roosnupp (for Jarva, 58 mins), Sinyavskiy (for Liivak, 75 mins) Jarvelaid (for Lukka, 81 mins), Vaikla, Magi, Riiberg,

Man of the match: Mark Sykes

Match rating: 7/10

Referee: Peter Reinert (Faroe Islands)

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