Northern Ireland girls show grit but are outclassed by Norway
Northern Ireland 0-3 Norway
Northern Ireland women's spirited resistance was eventually smashed by Norway at Shamrock Park last night as they suffered another defeat in World Cup Qualifying Group Three.
The home side, who were beaten 7-0 by the Netherlands five days earlier, frustrated Norway for the first hour before the visitors' class shone through.
It was a brave defensive performance from Alfie Wylie's side, who ran out of steam a little after the break.
But the scoreline still flattered Norway as they needed two goals in the final four minutes to make sure of the victory.
The Norwegians dominated possession and created numerous chances with Wolfsburg striker Caroline Graham Hansen scoring twice and experienced forward Isabell Herlovsen also hitting the target.
Norway went searching for an early goal but the home defence stood firm with Julie Nelson, earning her 97th cap for her country, and defensive partner Ashley Hutton making important clearances.
Hansen was lively and dangerous and Northern Ireland fought tirelessly with keeper Lauren Perry in inspired form.
On 15 minutes, Maria Thorisdottir produced an acrobatic bicycle kick from close range but her effort was superbly saved by Perry.
Five minutes later, Perry gathered a low Hansen strike.
Northern Ireland's first and only real chance came on the half-hour mark. From a corner, the ball dropped to Nelson inside the box but she snatched at it and her shot went well wide.
Two minutes later, Perry produced another great stop, palming away a drive from Frida Maanum. On 43 minutes, Hansen produced a superb run and weaved her way towards goal but her strike found the side netting.
Norwegian full-back Ingrid Wold then fired in a decent effort which Perry saved well.
In the 53rd minute, Perry held her ground during a goalmouth scramble which almost saw the Norwegians force the ball over the goal-line. In the midst of the melee, Hutton appeared to punch the ball out from under the bar.
Minutes later, there was a huge let-off for Northern Ireland when Herlovsen prodded the ball into the net but her effort was ruled out for offside.
Then, Hansen was in the thick of it again, shooting over the bar from eight yards.
But she was not to be denied. In the 61st minute, Hansen latched onto a neat through ball and slid it under the advancing Perry to make it 1-0.
Norway, ranked 14th in the world compared to Northern Ireland in 56th, piled forward and Hutton produced a great last-ditch tackle to prevent the marauding Ingrid Syrstad Engen from scoring.
Hansen missed a gilt-edged chance in the 76th minute when set up by Kristine Minde.
She made up for it, however, in the 87th minute when she produced a fabulous volley from 10 yards to make it 2-0.
And in injury-time, Herlovsen smashed the ball into the top of the net from eight yards.
Northern Ireland: L Perry, J Foy, J Nelson, A Hutton, M Callaghan (captain), R Furness, S McFadden, K McGuinness, B Simpson, F Holdaway, D Vance. Substitutes: (used) C Sherwood, M Bell, A Smyth; (not used) T McKenna, R Newborough, L Rafferty, B McPartlan.