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Milk Cup: Chinese can't take an opening victory away from our boys

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Just what the doc ordered: Josh Doherty heads Northern Ireland in front against China at the Dale Farm Milk Cup

Just what the doc ordered: Josh Doherty heads Northern Ireland in front against China at the Dale Farm Milk Cup

©William Cherry / Presseye

Just what the doc ordered: Josh Doherty heads Northern Ireland in front against China at the Dale Farm Milk Cup

Northern Ireland claimed an important win in their opening game in the Elite Section of the Dale Farm Milk Cup.

Stephen Craigan's men beat China 2-0 at the Ballymena Showgrounds as goals from Josh Doherty and Sean Mullan settled a tetchy affair.

After the game a delighted Craigan said: "It's a fantastic result for us because a lot of these lads are very young in their age group.

"A lot of them are one year younger than the Chinese lads and some of them are even two years younger.

"It's actually not easy to play at home when you're so young, particularly when you're playing in front of your family and friends.

"It can add a lot of pressure to the game, but the boys coped with that well.

"We're building for the future, here. It's all about preparing the boys for the qualifying campaign for the next European Under-19 Championship.

"We want to win the Milk Cup, of course we do. It would give the players a lift, it would give the fans a lift and it would give me a lift, but our goals are long term.

"We want to gives these lads the best possible education in football.

"We want to treat them as real internationals and pass onto them our knowledge from playing at international level.

"We're determined to create players that will make Northern Ireland competitive in the future and the Milk Cup is a great starting point."

Northern Ireland dominated the first half and arguably should have had the lead in the opening minutes, but for the referee to adjudge that an early scrambled effort hadn't crossed the line.

The early exchanges saw Northern Ireland exert increasing pressure on the Chinese backline with their endeavours eventually bearing fruit.

A well rehearsed free-kick routine saw Eoghan McCawl's delivery headed across the face of goal at the back post and the rebound was finished with aplomb by Doherty.

Tom Smart could have doubled the advantage five minutes later, but failed to hit the target with a back post header when unmarked.

The home side continued to press, with a cross from Simon Hanna causing havoc in the Chinese penalty box on 42 minutes, but no-one in green was on hand to turn the ball in.

Right on the stroke of half time Northern Ireland did notch a second goal. China had plainly failed to learn any lessons from the first goal, with another training ground rehearsed free-kick culminating in a deft turn and finish from Mullan.

The second half was a tamer affair, with Northern Ireland content to sit on their lead and China largely failing to threaten.

Jamie McDonagh will be disappointed with his headed effort on 58 minutes when he neglected to hit the target from a central position in front of goal.

Robbie McDaid drew an appreciative round of applause on 71 minutes with a mazy run through the Chinese defence, but despite an abundance of skill on show, it ultimately came to nothing.

Next up for the hosts is a clash with Mexico at the Coleraine Showgrounds on Wednesday evening, with China taking on Canada at the Brandywell.

Mexico lost their opening game of the campaign 2-0 to Canada in Ballymoney.

NORTHERN IRELAND: Johns, Doherty, Smart, Lowe, Ives, McCawl, Gorman, Hanna, Glendinning, Mullan, Kennedy.

CHINA: Jia Xin Yao, Han Xuan, Fu Yu Long, Huang Bo Wen, Xiang Han Tian, Zhou Da Di, Luo An Dong, Chen Jin, Ming Tian, Wei Zhao Kun, Long Wei.

Belfast Telegraph