Milk Cup: Bulgaria 0 Northern Ireland 3
Steve Beaglehole's outstanding Milk Cup record continues as Northern Ireland strolled into their third Elite final on the trot last night with a convincing and comprehensive 3-0 victory over Bulgaria in Coleraine.
The Green and White Army go into Friday’s final against Denmark brimming with confidence as the only team with a 100% record from the group stages and they will fancy their chances of retaining the trophy.
James Lawrie set the home side on their way to the win, giving them a 1-0 lead at the break and they never looked back after that.
Leicester striker Billy Kee — who has joined Accrington Stanley on-loan — then stepped up to the plate in the second-half to put gloss on the scoreline with a brace.
Kee, however, isn’t expected to play in the final as Beaglehole has agreed to let him return to Accrington to play on Saturday.
In the first period it was the home side were on the ascendancy and they were quick out of the blocks.
Cardiff City striker Josh Magennis found the first opening after just six minutes, but his tamely-struck shot was no problem at all for Bulgaria goalkeeper Ivayo Vasiev.
Manchester United midfielder Oliver Norwood — who had appeared for the Old Trafford side in last year’s Premier Competition— was next to try his luck when he tried to catch Vasiev out with a free-kick, however his strike, from all of 35 yards, flew wide of the post.
Kee, a livewire in Monday’s victory over Germany, was buzzing once again last night and fired a
well struck shot at the visiting goalkeeper on 12 minutes which he did well to keep out.
Northern Ireland finally made the breakthrough midway through the half when Port Vale striker Lawrie — who had spent last week training with Everton — pounced on 27 minutes.
The striker, who plundered Northern Ireland’s winner on Monday against Germany, found himself with plenty of room to ease the ball past Vasiev.
However, Bulgaria reminded their hosts that they were still in a game just shy of the half-time whistle.
Ivelin Vasilev raced through the Northern Ireland defence before only being able to find the top of the net with his shot.
The Bulgarians had little answer after the break either, however, as the hosts continued to dominate in the new half.
United starlet Norwood came close to doubling his side’s tally after an audacious volley brought the very best save from Vasiev, 11 minutes after the re-start.
Just a minute later Kee was unable to find the target with a header at full stretch.
Bulgaria weren’t out of the contest just yet though and refused to lie down with Kostadin Adzhov shooting narrowly wide.
On 69 minutes Kee came agonisingly close to finding the second goal when he took a Magennis pass, only to strike the outside of the post.
Kee finally got his name on the scoresheet on 71 minutes and deservedly so.
He again joined forces with Magennis, latching on to his header to slot past Vasiev.
Kee then grabbed his second and Northern Ireland’s third just a few minutes later to put the result beyond doubt.
This time he raced through the defence before smashing a ferocious drive into the bottom corner.
He then strode off the pitch the toast of Northern Ireland fans after his devastating double.
Beaglehole’s boys will be back at the Showgrounds on Friday evening and few would bet against the home side recording yet another win and retaining the trophy they won in style on Beaglehole's debut with the team 12 months ago.
RESULTS: Bulgaria 0-3 Northern Ireland, Denmark 1-1 Israel, Germany 1-1 USA