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Positive draw but Northern Ireland Under-18s reflect on what might have been

Northern Ireland's Under-18 Schoolboys got their Centenary Shield campaign off to a fine start with a 2-2 draw against England.

Northern Ireland twice lead in Eastleigh, only for England to pull back on both occasions. Linfield lad Adam Salley gave the Ulstermen the lead in the ninth minute only for England captain Adam Curry to equalise in the 66th minute. Coleraine starlet Brad Lyons gave Northern Ireland a 2-1 lead, but Robert Black equalised late in the game.

Reflecting on Friday's away game, joint manager Conor Marlin felt Northern Ireland were unfortunate not to claim all three points.

“Although it looks like a great result on paper we actually feel we could have won the game," he said. "We played some superb football and we had enough chances to score a few more goals. After the game, it felt like two points dropped, which perhaps tells you something about how good the coaching staff feel this group of lads are. We go into each game thinking we can win.

“Perhaps the biggest compliment England paid us was the fact that they changed their shape at half time because we were dominating the game. I think that tells you everything you need to know about how well our boys applied themselves.”

Marlin and his fellow manager Frankie Wilson believe their pre-tournament preparations played a big part in Friday night's fine display.

Marlin said: “Our week away in the Channel Isles certainly helped us. The boys applied the shape that we worked on while we were away, so from a coaching perspective, Friday's game was very pleasing, because the things we worked on with the lads caused England problems.

“It's been a frustrating season, because we had a number of our warm-up games postponed or abandoned, which didn't help our cause.”

England currently top the division with four points, while Scotland are second on three points. The Ulstermen are positioned third, but they do have a game in hand over England.

Next up for Northern Ireland is a derby match with the Republic of Ireland at Ferney Park in Ballinamallard on St Patrick's Day. Tuesday week's match kicks off at 5pm.

Marlin would like to see the Green & White Army out in force to back the Schoolboy team.

“We're in confident form at the moment, so everyone is really looking forward to the game against the Republic of Ireland. It's become something of a tradition that the two Irish sides play each other on St Patrick's Day and it's a game everyone relishes.

“Myself and Frankie rate this group of boys very highly and although the Republic are also a good team, we're confident we can do well. I'd certainly recommend the match to anyone who is off on St Patrick's Day. It should be a competitive game of football, so it would be nice to see a big crowd there to cheer the boys on.

“At the England game, there were a thousand or so England fans who sang for 90 minutes. It would be fantastic if we could create a similar atmosphere in Ballinamallard. It should be a good family occasion.” 

Belfast Telegraph