Northern Ireland Elite boss Steve Beaglehole has likened his boys’ 5-0 win over China to a boxing match — now they are ready to deliver a knockout blow to the USA in tonight’s Milk Cup final.
The host nation made the decider in Ballymena (6pm) courtesy of that resounding defeat of the Chinese on Wednesday night, aided by three goals inside six first-half minutes.
Beaglehole believes that floored China as Northern Ireland turned in what he believes was the best performance since he took over three years ago.
“Prior to the opening goals we had a lot of chances, there were crosses into the box, free-kicks and chances yet it took a while to break the deadlock,” Beaglehole admits.
“Sometimes that happens in football, but once we got the first it was like a boxing match.
“There were three quick jabs and they were very much on the floor after that.
“However, as we said at half-time we said it was important that we kept our high tempo, but also not to concede as we didn’t know the situation in the other games.
“Like every game you play you always come away thinking of the small things you could have done better, but it was essentially the perfect performance.
“To score five goals, create many more chances and not concede, it had everything you would ask for.
“Like I always say there’s a good team behind the side here. We have a very good staff and the senior boss is here which is a massive boost to everyone.
“I would have to say it’s the best performance I have seen from any Northern Ireland team I have taken charge of.
“It’s got us to the final now and we don’t want to rest our laurels, we want to go out and win the competition again.”
There have been a total of 22 goals scored in the six Elite section games so far, leading to expectations that tonight’s finale could be an open one.
Beaglehole is adamant, however, that he won’t be changing his outlook and how the Northern Ireland side set out.
“I don’t know what they will do or how they will set out to play, but we try to emulate what our seniors do in our style of play,”
Beaglehole admits. “We press high up the pitch and we want the identity of our team to show through in how we play.
“There are a lot of teams who don’t have an identity, but we do have that and whether people like it or not we don’t really care, we’re sticking to it.
“We have players who are capable of hurting opposition, like Jonny Gorman and Shane Ferguson, then you hope to take chances which are created high up the pitch.
“At the end of the day we just want to score more goals than they do, however many that ends up.”
Beaglehole revealed before Wednesday’s clash with China that he would be making as few
changes as possible to his starting line-up.
However, for the final, he said he will “look at the bigger” picture with players playing so many games in so few days.
He said: “A lot of these players have played Saturday, Monday and Wednesday so we have to take stock of what we have on Friday morning.
“Ideally players who have played and got us to the final would play again on Friday, but we have to look at the bigger picture and see who is carrying a knock and take it from there.
“Whoever takes to the pitch though will be determined to carry on our proud record and claim our third Milk Cup win in a row.”