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Jordan Jones' return goal to Conor Bradley's debut: Five talking points as Northern Ireland ease past Malta in international friendly

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Jordan Jones opens the scores for Northern Ireland. Photo by William Cherry/Presseye

Jordan Jones opens the scores for Northern Ireland. Photo by William Cherry/Presseye

William Cherry/Presseye

Press Eye - Belfast, Northern Ireland - 30th May 2021 - Photo by William Cherry/Presseye

Northern Ireland’s Ali McCann celebrates scoring against Malta during Sundays International Friendly at the Wörthersee Stadium, Austria.   Photo by William Cherry/Presseye

Press Eye - Belfast, Northern Ireland - 30th May 2021 - Photo by William Cherry/Presseye Northern Ireland’s Ali McCann celebrates scoring against Malta during Sundays International Friendly at the Wörthersee Stadium, Austria. Photo by William Cherry/Presseye

William Cherry/Presseye

Press Eye - Belfast, Northern Ireland - 30th May 2021 - Photo by William Cherry/Presseye

Northern Ireland’s Ali McCann scoring against Malta during Sundays International Friendly at the Wörthersee Stadium, Austria.   Photo by William Cherry/Presseye

Press Eye - Belfast, Northern Ireland - 30th May 2021 - Photo by William Cherry/Presseye Northern Ireland’s Ali McCann scoring against Malta during Sundays International Friendly at the Wörthersee Stadium, Austria. Photo by William Cherry/Presseye

William Cherry/Presseye

Press Eye - Belfast, Northern Ireland - 30th May 2021 - Photo by William Cherry/Presseye

Northern Ireland’s Gavin Whyte celebrates scoring against Malta during Sundays International Friendly at the Wörthersee Stadium, Austria.   Photo by William Cherry/Presseye

Press Eye - Belfast, Northern Ireland - 30th May 2021 - Photo by William Cherry/Presseye Northern Ireland’s Gavin Whyte celebrates scoring against Malta during Sundays International Friendly at the Wörthersee Stadium, Austria. Photo by William Cherry/Presseye

William Cherry/Presseye

Northern Ireland manager Ian Baraclough. Pic: INPHO/Presseye/William Cherry

Northern Ireland manager Ian Baraclough. Pic: INPHO/Presseye/William Cherry

©INPHO/Presseye/William Cherry

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Jordan Jones opens the scores for Northern Ireland. Photo by William Cherry/Presseye

Northern Ireland saw off Malta 3-0 on Sunday evening to earn Ian Baraclough's first win inside 90 minutes as the senior international manager.

But just what were the talking points?

1. Jordan Jones back with a bang

Rangers winger Jordan Jones made his return to the team for the first time since missing the Euro 2020 play-offs after a breach of coronavirus restrictions and it couldn't have got off to a better start as he opened the scores inside two minutes. Northern Ireland's high press won the ball on the edge of the box and Jones wrong-footed the goalkeeper.

He had put in some impressive displays on that left wing for Northern Ireland before missing out in those crucial games towards the end of last season.

He spent the second half of the season on loan at Sunderland, scoring three goals and making four assists in 21 games. He will now return to Rangers to see if he can resurrect his career with the Light Blues.

Time will tell just how significant that goal could be in terms of earning a second chance in big matches at international level.

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2. Ali McCann's perfect season continues

This time last year, ask about a long-term successor to Steven Davis as Northern Ireland's midfield maestro and Manchester United's Ethan Galbraith would have been the immediate answer, with maybe a special mention for Leeds United's Alfie McCalmont.

While McCalmont came off the bench in this one, Ali McCann has really stolen a march on the pair this season. He made his international debut and has already amassed five caps and now a first goal. It was a fine finish on the end of a Paddy McNair through ball.

After winning the Scottish Cup and League Cup with St Johnstone, and being increasingly tipped with a move to Celtic, the sky's the limit for club and country.

3. Conor Bradley takes another step forward

Conor Bradley has become only the second Liverpool player to be capped by Northern Ireland since David McMullan played his third and final game for the team then called Ireland on February 2, 1927. Of course, Ryan McLaughlin is the other. In all, Bradley is the fifth Liverpool player to pull on the green shirt, with Billy Lacey and legendary goalkeeper Elisha Scott doing so before McMullan.

On calling up the 17-year-old, boss Ian Baraclough outlined his high hopes.

"Conor's had a really good season with Liverpool, he's played regularly in the U23s and was in the FA Youth Cup final the other night," he said.

"We just feel his development has been very, very good this season. And to give him the knowledge of what it's like with this group, we thought it was the right time."

Incidentally, the last Northern Irish player to make a first team appearance for Liverpool was Sammy Smyth in 1954. Could Bradley end that hoodoo?

His Liverpool team-mate Liam Hughes and Chelsea defender Sam McClelland will hope to follow in his footsteps against Ukraine on Thursday.

4. Gavin Whyte's a friendly guy

Gavin Whyte was the other man on target for Northern Ireland as he converted his third senior international goal. Two of those have come in friendlies - his first goal on his 2018 debut against Israel, and the other was in the UEFA Nations League, which, let's face it, is a glorified friendly.

5. A win at last for Ian Baraclough

The boss did, of course, enjoy a big win in Bosnia during the Euro 2020 play-off sem-final, although that came on penalties. That meant he was still dogged with the tag of never having won as Northern Ireland senior manager in normal time.

That's all gone now thanks to this victory in his 12th game in charge.

Here's the match as it happened:


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