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We need the GAWA out in force to roar on Northern Ireland U21s, says boss

Iceland U21 0 N Ireland U21 1


Keeping the dream alive: Northern Ireland Under-21 boss Ian Baraclough

Keeping the dream alive: Northern Ireland Under-21 boss Ian Baraclough

Philip Magowan

Keeping the dream alive: Northern Ireland Under-21 boss Ian Baraclough

Northern Ireland's Under-21 side continue to deliver. What a story manager Ian Baraclough and his brilliant young players are writing.

One month ago they produced the greatest victory in the country's history at this level by winning 2-1 in the heat of Spain against a side filled with La Liga stars.

Last night they defeated Iceland 1-0 in Reykjavik in the wind and rain to keep their hopes of qualifying for next year's European Championship finals alive.

Baraclough and his boys have turned into a team for all seasons, and in 19-year old Arsenal defender Daniel Ballard they had a superhero who soared to the rescue in the nick of time.

In the 90th minute, the teenager headed in James McDonagh's corner to spark glorious scenes of celebration for Northern Ireland on the pitch and the sidelines.

It was a goal that won the game and took the team into second place in Group 2. That in itself is an achievement but there may be more to come.

The top four runners-up in the nine qualifying groups enter play-offs to reach the 2019 finals in Italy.

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Northern Ireland need results in other groups to go their way and also to hold up their side of the bargain by finishing second behind the Spanish.

To do that they must beat Slovakia at Windsor Park on Tuesday. Tonight the Slovakians are expected to beat Estonia to move one point ahead, but the win over Iceland means next week's clash at Windsor will be the decider regardless of the result.

Baraclough wants the Green and White Army out in force.

"This is what we wanted to do and we have worked towards it," said Baraclough.

"To take it to the final game is fantastic. I've heard tickets have been going well and there is a lot of interest in the game which is great for the boys.

"It would be brilliant if there was a good atmosphere at Windsor Park.

"Hopefully we can finish with another win and then it is in the lap of the gods with other groups and hopefully we can make the play-offs."

Early on, Celtic's gifted young goalkeeper Conor Hazard saved from Arnor Sigurdsson and in the dying moments of the first half Ballard made a superb clearance off the line.

The visitors had their moments too with Paul Smyth and Jordan Thompson looking dangerous.

The latter thought he had earned a penalty for his side with 18 minutes left when he was felled in the box but appeals were waved off by the Danish referee.

Baraclough knew a win was required and sent on his key substitutes Mark Sykes, Alistair Roy and David Parkhouse in a bid to get it.

Northern Ireland pressed and Ballard provided the perfect finish nodding into the net.

Once again Baraclough's side had shown character as well as class to keep going right to the end.

Windsor Park awaits…what a night that could be for the boss, captain Liam Donnelly and the rest of this inspirational team who are doing Northern Ireland proud.

The manager added: "I thought Iceland were better in the first half and we were the better side in the second after we changed our shape a little. We deserved it in the end.

"The lads stuck at it and kept believing. They have shown throughout this campaign that they go right to the end in games and have great character.

"You can't beat a late goal and from a set piece as well.

"You work on things like that and to see it happening it's great for all of us.

"I was very pleased for Daniel Ballard to get the winner. He is making great strides. He has made the progression from the Under-19s and made it look seamless. He is enjoying his football at the moment and the boys like him.

"It really is a great group of players to be involved with."

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