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It's a night of heartache and joy for Paul Smyth as he gets ready for senior debut



On the run: Northern Ireland’s Paul Smyth and Spain’s Mikel Merino during last night’s game at Shamrock Park

On the run: Northern Ireland’s Paul Smyth and Spain’s Mikel Merino during last night’s game at Shamrock Park


Belief: Ian Baraclough was encourged by NI’s display

Belief: Ian Baraclough was encourged by NI’s display


On the run: Northern Ireland’s Paul Smyth and Spain’s Mikel Merino during last night’s game at Shamrock Park

Queens Park Rangers striker Paul Smyth was unable to help the Northern Ireland Under-21s mastermind a memorable victory over Spain in a Euro 2019 qualifier last night but he will have the opportunity to make his senior debut against South Korea at Windsor Park tomorrow.

The former Linfield favourite, who played for Ian Baraclough's side in their 5-3 defeat at Shamrock Park, will link up with Michael O'Neill's senior panel for their first friendly of 2018.

While the 20-year-old cut a frustrated figure as the slick Spaniards showed their class, a senior debut at Windsor Park will be a dream come true for the Belfast man.

Baraclough said: "If Paul Smyth gets any sort of game time with the senior team on Saturday it will do him the world of good."

The QPR winger showed his class in front of the watching O’Neill when the home side came from behind three times before losing to Spain, who were littered with La Liga stars.

While boss Baraclough acknowledged it was disappointing to concede five times, he was delighted by the character of his players against a side with the next batch of Spanish superstars.

Crusaders winger Gavin Whyte excelled alongside Everton’s Shayne Lavery and Smyth in an explosive three-pronged attack.

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Smyth, who earlier in the month became unwittingly embroiled in a row between the Northern Ireland boss and Republic counterpart Martin O’Neill over players opting to switch allegiance from the IFA to FAI, will now be called into the senior squad along with some of his Under-21 colleagues.

There were suggestions that Smyth was on the FAI’s radar but is now set to win his first cap for the Northern Ireland senior team which, even though it will be in a friendly international, will surely put any debate about the player to bed.

On the prospect of some of his side joining up with O’Neill’s squad, Baraclough, who has insisted that Smyth’s commitment has never been in question, stated last night: “It will be great for some of the lads to go into the senior squad and work with the senior boys.

“Michael won’t take people for the sake of it.”

On the game against Spain, he added: “We showed a lot of good character and hopefully we will learn from mistakes. We are disappointed with the goals we conceded but the goals that we scored, the pressure we put on them and our desire to be positive showed what our boys are all about.

“I’ve seen teams against that Spanish side crumble but we didn’t. Every time they scored we got on the front foot and took the game to them. We tried to be as positive as possible and knew we could be a threat in behind with our front three, who are all quick. Shane Lavery worked tirelessly all night, Gavin Whyte was a  threat when he got the ball at his feet in the final third and Paul Smyth, when he is running with the ball in the right areas — and I mean the right areas — is a threat to anybody. With that three, you are always in the game.

“We’ll continue to play in an attack minded manner because that is the best way for us to play. You still have to be patient but we also like to attack in good numbers.

“It’s an uphill battle to try and get first place but we will fight for second, That is a realistic proposition and we will aim for that and hopefully we can amass enough points to get us into the top four runners up spots that will give us a play-off.”

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