Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland U21s crushed by Serb comeback

By Stuart McKinley

Northern Ireland's under-21s suffered a fourth successive defeat in their 2015 European Championship qualifying campaign after Serbia came from behind to beat them 3-1 in Gornji Milanovac.

Stephen Robinson's team took a 54th-minute lead through James Gray, but Serbia then netted three times in 11 minutes to win the game thanks to David Morgan's own-goal on 63 minutes before Luka Milunovic put them ahead a minute later and Uros Vitas hit the third 16 minutes from time.

Serbia were on the attack from the early stages, with Milunovic passing up a great opportunity by missing the target in the third minute before Milos Jojic brought a save out of Conor Brennan in the sixth.

Northern Ireland's first attempt at goal came in the 10th minute, with Ryan Brobbel trying his luck unsuccessfully and Serbia were then swiftly back on the front foot.

Following a flurry of efforts at the visitors' goal, Serbia went the closest yet in the 23rd minute when Aleksandar Mitrovic hit the woodwork.

Aleksandar Kovacevic then had a shot blocked and the hosts' pressure continued with efforts from Nikola Stoiljkovic and Jojic keeping Brennan busy.

Northern Ireland were struggling to muster much at the other end, but Brobbel did miss with a free-kick, Gray and Kirk Millar had efforts blocked and towards the end of the first half Carl Winchester shot over.

Northern Ireland started the second half on top and took the lead nine minutes in when Luke McCullough got onto the end of Morgan's corner and Gray put his knock-down into the net.

Serbia quickly looked to bounce back as Brennan kept Milunovic at bay, and within moments of Morgan having a free-kick saved, things were level with the Nottingham Forest man having put the ball into his own net.

Seconds later the game had been fully turned on its head, with Mitrovic giving Milunovic the chance to score.

Efforts from Kovacevic and Mitrovic followed and after Morgan failed to hit the target with a chance, Vitas showed better accuracy to add Serbia's third.

Northern Ireland remained under pressure thereafter, with Mitrovic failing to convert a particularly decent opportunity, while Jonny Gorman's blocked strike was the only response.

Serbia: Peric, Petrovic, Spajic, Golubovic, Vitas, Kovacevic, Djurdjevic (Cirkovic 90mins), Jojic, Mitrovic, Milunovic (Mijailovic 75), Stojiljkovic (Djurdjevic 56mins). Subs: Dmitrovic, Stojkovic, Kostic, Brasanac.

Northern Ireland: Brennan, Donnelly, McKeown, McCullough, Sharpe, Morgan, Brobbell (Conlan 84mins), Winchester (Tempest 69), Gray, McCartan (Gorman 62mins), Millar. Subs: Glendinning, Nolan, Duffy.

Referee: Oliver Drachta (Austria)

e THE Northern Ireland under-19 team missed out on a place in the Elite qualifying stage of the European Championships after a 1-0 defeat to Iceland.

A victory would have put Stephen Craigan's team through after Belgium overcame France in the other group game, but Iceland now progress instead.

Belfast Telegraph


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