Northern Ireland beat Luxembourg thanks to comedic own goal as three players make international debuts at Windsor Park
Northern Ireland 1-0 Luxembourg
Three players made their senior international debuts as Northern Ireland edged to a single goal victory over Luxembourg in a friendly at Windsor Park.
Cardiff City centre-half Ciaron Brown was handed his bow from the start, just six days after his first ever call-up to Northern Ireland's Under 21 squad.
He was joined in the second half by Leeds midfielder Alfie McCalmont and Manchester United's Ethan Galbraith.
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The winning goal came from Luxembourg defender Kevin Malget in cringeworthy style shortly before the break.
The win means Northern Ireland have sealed five successive victories for only the second time in the nation's history.
The first half brought little to excite the footballing purist, Northern Ireland's best move eventually petering out after good work by Kyle Lafferty on the left to set up Josh Magennis, who opted to pass when he perhaps should have shot.
The moment of the half arrived on 38 minutes, notable more for its comedic value that skillful excellence. Jordan Thompson's corner was headed back towards goal by George Saville at the back post. When it nicked up into the air off Tom Flanagan, Luxembourg left-back Malget inexplicably placed a header perfectly into the bottom corner.
The laughter that erupted round Windsor Park when the replay was shown on the big screen felt harsh, but ultimately said everything after the bizarre nature of the only goal.
You hate to see it. I genuinely feel sorry for Kevin Malget after this own goal gave Northern Ireland the lead against Luxembourg. The rest of Windsor Park does not. The ground erupted in laughter when the replay came on the big screen. Heartless. 🙈 #GAWA pic.twitter.com/43SXHvlDUF— Gareth Hanna (@GarethHanna11) September 5, 2019
The visitors, other than that, had held their own during a dreary half with plenty of possession but little quality in the final third.
Northern Ireland made a series of changes during the second period, handing debuts to Leeds midfieler Alfie McCalmont and Manchester United's 18-year-old Ethan Galbraith.
Michael O'Neill's men strengthened with the subs, Motherwell's Liam Donnelly and Linfield striker Shayne Lavery particular bright sparks as Donnelly combined with Lavery to showcase his raw pace and neat footwork.
Soon after his 60th minute introduction, he ghosted past the left-back and could only fire into the side-netting from a narrow angle.
Then, on the other side of the pitch, he made a mug of Lars Gerson at the corner flag, turning the centre-back inside out before having the presence of mind to pick out fellow substitute Liam Donnelly with a low cross. The Motherwell midfielder has eight club goals already this season and should have added his first international strike in his second cap, but could only fire high and wide.
Donnelly, making only his second international appearance five years after his first, went one better soon after, hitting the target when a cross was fumbled in the box by goalkeeper Moris. Having got his head over the ball and kept it down, it was rather unfortunately blocked by Laurent Jans, who was down injured in the goalmouth and took a well-struck football to the midriff.
Lavery and Donnelly again combined in the closing minutes when Donnelly sent his fellow sub galloping at the last defender Jans, who fouled the striker and bagged a yellow card for his troubles, saved a red by a covering defender.
There was to be no further goals but Lavery and Donnelly will feel they have increased their stock ahead of Monday's crunch visit of Germany in the Euro 2020 qualifiers.
Let the real games recommence.
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