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Northern Ireland Women's playoff hopes alive after draw with Wales

Northern Ireland 0-0 Wales

Northern Ireland's Rachel Furness in action with Wales' Angharad James. Credit Presseye/Stephen Hamilton
Northern Ireland's Rachel Furness in action with Wales' Angharad James. Credit Presseye/Stephen Hamilton

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 throughout the game, 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 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 wing and crossed into the box, Magill got away from her marker and glanced a header goalwards that Wales O’Sullivan managed to push wide for a corner.

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 just before Magill was able to get her head to it.

Second later play was held up for four minutes after Northern Ireland goalkeeper Becky Flaherty, making her home debut – took a blow in the face as she dived at the feet of Wales striker Kayleigh Green.

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 got to just in front of the goalkeeper and headed over the bar.

Flaherty was then relieved to watch the ball sail just wide of her right-hand post on 26 minutes. Julie Nelson lost possession on the edge of the box to Josephine Green and she immediately got a shot off, but missed the target to the relief of the Northern Ireland defence.

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

Northern Ireland began to up the pressure after the hour mark. A quick passing move on the right saw Magill slip the ball to Megan Bell who found Rachel Furness in midfield. She tried to pick out Wade with a ball through the defence, but the winger failed to read the pass and the opportunity was lost.

A minute later Bell broke into the Wales box from the right wing had the ball taken off her toe just as she was about to shoot.

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

Nelson took the ball past one Wales striker on the edge of the box, but lost it to Wynne, she offloaded to Rowe who then played the ball across the 18 yard line to Angharad Green who looked certain to score, but Flahery pulled off the save of the match to keep her clean sheet intact.

Shiels made positive substitutions, bringing on Marissa Callaghan and Caitlin McGuinness in an attempt to break the deadlock.

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

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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