Euro U21 Qualifier
Northern Ireland U21s 1-2 Scotland U21s
Saturday 5 September, kick-off 2pm
Mourneview Park, Lurgan, Northern Ireland
8’ Kennedy; 33’ Christie, 61’ Fraser
Scotland got their UEFA U21 Qualifying campaign off to a flyer with a well-deserved 2-1 victory over Northern Ireland in Lurgan.
Ricky Sbragia’s first game in charge saw the visitors take a while to click into gear as they fell behind to Mikhail Kennedy’s strike on 6 minutes.
However, a determined Scotland quickly fought their way back into the game with goals from Ryan Christie and Ryan Fraser sealing the three points. It could have been more were it not for a fantastic performance from Northern Ireland keeper Conor Brennan.
Scotland leave Northern Ireland with plenty of positives to take into next month’s Group 3 home ties against France and Iceland.
Dundee United’s John Souttar was handed his U21s debut with Hibernian’s John McGinn captaining the side alongside him in midfield. Jason Cummings would spearhead the attack, supported by the three Ryans; Gauld, Fraser and Christie just behind him.
Northern Ireland wasted no time in getting forward with Seamus McCartan heading just wide of goals with scarcely a minute on the clock.
Ryan Fraser has had a blistering start to the season on-loan at Ipswich Town and the tricky winger struck Scotland’s first shot on target on 6 minutes. Unfortunately his long-range effort was well scooped up by Northern Irish keeper Conor Brennan.
On 8 minutes the home side took the lead when Mikhail Kennedy slid in Michael Duffy’s low pass across goal. It was an unfortunate start to Scotland’s UEFA U21 Qualifying campaign but seemed to buoy the Scottish players.
They attempted to hit back immediately with Fraser bombing forward down the left before laying it off to Callum McFadzean. The left-back’s cross was picked up by Gauld in the box but the Sporting Club youngster was crowded out before he could take a shot.
Scotland captain John McGinn forced a brilliant save with 20 minutes gone, when he shimmed and blasted at goal from 25 yards out. The shot would have gone in were it not for a brilliant diving save from Brennan in the Northern Ireland goal.
The visitors were slowly starting to find their feet with several chances coming down the left wing where Fraser and McFadzean continued to link up well. McFadzean’s curling cross on 29 minutes was unlucky not to find the head of the onrushing Cummings.
Scotland got a well-deserved equaliser just after the half-hour mark. Cummings collected the ball before dropping deep where he played a neat through ball to Ryan Christie. The on-loan Inverness Caley Thistle winger – who secured a move to Celtic on Transfer deadline day – struck a powerful shot past Brennan and into the Northern Irish net.
Ricky’s young guns continued to dominate as the first-half wore on. A fine dribble and cross from Fraser on 44 minutes almost found Cummings but the Hibs man couldn’t connect properly with the ball. Still, Scotland could go into half-time with confidence.
Early chances for McGinn and Cummings in the opening minutes showed Scotland had lost none of their momentum during the interval and they quickly resumed their domination over the home side.
Brennan was Northern Ireland’s savour again on 51 minutes when he made a superb diving save to keep out Gauld’s curling free-kick from just outside the box.
Things went further Scotland’s way on 56 minutes when Northern Ireland’s Dale Gorman was sent off for a second bookable offence and it wasn’t long before they were in the lead.
Gauld had been menacing the Northern Irish backline all game and on 61 minutes he was able to thread a neat ball through to Fraser who blasted past Brennan to make it 2-1 to Scotland.
Cummings almost capped his good performance off with a goal on 73 minutes. One on one with the keeper the striker was denied by the outstretched torso of Brennan.
Substitute Billy King was the next Scotland player to take a shot at goal on 89 minutes but again Brennan was able to stretch and palm the ball away to safety.
Scotland: Hamilton (GK), Paterson, McFadzean, McGinn(capt), Findlay, McGhee, Souttar, Cummings (Shankland 72), Gauld, Christie (Nicholson 81) Fraser (King 85) Subs not used: Henly (GK), Fulton, Hendrie, King, Love.
Northern Ireland: Brennan, Dummigan, Conlan, Donnelly (capt), Johnson, Sendles-White, McLaughlin, Gorman, Kennedy, McCartan, Duffy.