Belfast Telegraph

Play-off dream alive as NI point the way

Northern Ireland 0-0 Wales

On attack: NI ace Megan Bell takes on Angharad James
On attack: NI ace Megan Bell takes on Angharad James

By Stuart McKinley

Northern Ireland's hopes of claiming a Women's Euro 2021 play-off place are very much alive, despite being unable to make their chances count in a 0-0 stalemate with Wales.

Kenny Shiels' side created a number of opportunities but the Welsh defence stood strong and on the odd occasion Northern Ireland did break through goalkeeper, Laura O'Sullivan was there to deny them.

The point, however, does put the girls in green - who were wearing their new kit - in a good position going into the second half of the campaign, with home and away games against Belarus and the Faroe Islands to come.

Shiels welcomed Everton striker Simone Magill back into the line up after she missed Friday's 6-0 defeat in Norway through injury and she almost made an immediate impact on her return.

There was barely a minute on the clock when Lauren Wade broke down the left and crossed. Magill got away from her marker and glanced a header goalwards but O'Sullivan pushed wide.

Wade was a thorn in the side of the Welsh in the early stages and 13 minutes in she whipped in another dangerous cross which O'Sullivan plucked out of the air.

Seconds later play was held up for four minutes after Northern Ireland goalkeeper Becky Flaherty, making her home debut, took a blow in the face.

After receiving treatment in the dressing room and a change of shirt, she was able to resume.

Wales tested Flaherty almost immediately, throwing in a deep cross that striker Rachel Rowe headed over the bar.

Flaherty was then relieved to watch the ball sail just wide of her post on 26 minutes. Julie Nelson lost possession to Josephine Green and she got a shot off, but missed the target.

Wales put the best move of the match together on 34 minutes. Megan Wynne slipped the ball to Green on the right and her low cross found Rowe, but her shot went straight to Flaherty.

Northern Ireland began to up the pressure after the hour mark. A quick passing move saw Magill slip the ball to Megan Bell, who found Rachel Furness. She tried to pick out Wade, but the winger failed to read the pass.

Suddenly the game had sparked into life and Northern Ireland had to rely on Flaherty to keep the scoreline blank.

Nelson took the ball past one Wales striker but lost it to Wynne. She offloaded to Rowe who then played the ball across the 18-yard line to Angharad Green but Flaherty pulled off the save of the match.

Shiels made positive substitutions, bringing on Marissa Callaghan and Caitlin McGuinness.

Within seconds of Callaghan coming on, she picked out Wade on the left wing and she was only denied a winner from a cross-cum-shot that was kept out by a fingertip save from O'Sullivan.

NORTHERN IRELAND: Flaherty, Newborough (McKenna, 57 minutes), Nelson, Hutton, Vance, McCarron, Furness, McFadden (Callaghan, 79 minutes), Bell (McGuinness, 80 minutes), Wade, Magill. Perry, Burrows, Finnegan, Kelly, McMaster, Howe, White, Caldwell.

WALES: O'Sullivan, Dykes, Roberts, Ladd, Hughes Evans, 54 mins), Wynne, Ingle, J Green, Rowe, K Green (Ward, 82 minutes), James. Subs: Skinner, Clarke, Jones, Francis-Jones, Lawrence, Nolan, Walters.

Referee: Karoline Wacker (Germany)

Match rating: 7/10

Player of the match: Becky Flaherty (Northern Ireland)

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