Ian Baraclough recorded his first victory as coach of Northern Ireland in 90 minutes as they bowed to a friendly 3-0 victory over Malta in Austria.
After Jordan Jones took advantage of a defensive error just two minutes later, quickfire goals from Gavin Whyte and Ali McCann in the second half of the second period effectively ended the game.
It wasn’t always convincing against a team ranked 175th in the world and facing a host of issues ahead, but the experienced team chosen by Baraclough ultimately got the job done in a hastily-arranged match after a planned trip. in Turkey was a victim. to the pandemic.
Baraclough had a number of new faces in his 22-person squad for the game, but they were all forced to wait on the bench as he picked a strong side, including Stuart Dallas as captain, Craig Cathcart, Paddy McNair and Josh Magennis.
Meanwhile, Maltese coach Devis Mangia had expressed concerns about the fitness of his squad, made up almost entirely of domestic players at a time the Maltese Premier League has been suspended since March.
And there was certainly a great degree of rust in the ugly clearance played by Ferdinando Apap, once from Sheffield FC in the Northern Premier League, as he inadvertently played Jones on the edge of the zone with barely 90 seconds elapsed.
The Rangers winger duly sanctioned the error by shooting past Henry Bonello for his first international goal.
Malta: Bonello, Apap, Agius, Shaw, Mbong, Kristensen, Teuma, Camenzuli, Satariano, Dimech, Montebello.
Subs used: Vella, Rowen Muscat, Farrugia, Borg, Xuereb.
North Ireland:Peacock-Farrell, McNair, Cathcart, Brown, McGinn, McCann, Dallas, Thompson, Whyte, Jones, Magennis.
Subs used: Bradley, McCalmont, Saville, Boyce, Ferguson, Charles.
It was Northern Ireland’s first goal in the first half in their last 10 internationals, but any hope that it could trigger a 45-minute free scoreline would be dashed.
Malta offered chances, with another defensive confusion between Kurt Shaw and Teddy Teuma almost letting Whyte in before Shaw fouled the Hull forward on loan to concede a penalty.
However, Magennis went for power over placement and saw his kick stopped by Bonello.
As Northern Ireland let opportunities pass, Malta gradually developed into the game, threatening when Luke Montebello hit the side net before Shaun Dimech passed away.
Malta had the advantage in possession, and Northern Ireland struggled to earn what they paid for as they repeatedly ran into traffic or found themselves offside with their opponents defending in numbers and then looking to break.
Dallas, the team captain for the second time, had been largely unable to influence the game from a central position, but secured an assist when Northern Ireland doubled their lead seven minutes into the match. second period.
Shaw was only able to clear Jones’ cross until the Leeds man, who quickly fed Whyte to send home.
And Dallas was involved in the third moments later as his film found McNair’s run, which fed McCann to finish the job.
The pace dropped early in the substitutions, with Accington striker Dion Charles winning a second cap as there was a late start for 17-year-old Liverpool defender Conor Bradley who came alongside ‘Alfie McCalmont five minutes from the end.
Baraclough will know that such a performance would not have been enough if the game against Turkey had gone ahead, and that more will be needed when they face Ukraine at Euro 2020 destination in Dnipro on Thursday.
But with the World Cup qualifiers against Lithuania and Switzerland looming in September and after a long wait for both a win and a goal – with this is the first time they’ve had more. one per game during his tenure – Baraclough will surely draw a lot from the result.
Baraclough: the team ticked most of the boxes
Patron of Northern Ireland Ian baraclough: “It was very nice. The way we started both halves is something we discussed, we wanted to start quickly and put the opposition on the back foot and we certainly did.
“I was happy to have scored three goals, and obviously to have created the chances and ultimately getting the rewards for that. And to keep a clean sheet too. The team as a whole ticked most of the boxes. .
“Looking at that, I think we’ve played better in other games and didn’t get the awards, so I’m delighted that we have the awards and can enjoy a lot of those performances.”
- Northern Ireland claimed their first victory since October 2019 against the Czech Republic, ending a streak of 13 international matches without a win (D5 L8).
- It was Northern Ireland’s biggest win since September 2018 against Israel (also 3-0), and their biggest away win since September 2017 against San Marino (3-0). It was also their biggest away friendly win against a European nation since a 3-0 victory over Malta in March 2000.
- Malta has never beaten Northern Ireland in an international meeting, with today the eighth time that the two nations have faced each other in all competitions (D2 L6).
- Northern Ireland missed their last two penalties (excluding shootouts), with Josh Magennis missing against Malta today and Steven Davis against the Netherlands in November 2019.
- There were only 103 seconds between Northern Ireland’s second goal scored by Gavin Whyte and Alistair McCann’s third.
- Jordan Jones scored his first goal for Northern Ireland in his 12th senior appearance for his country, while Alistair McCann also scored his first goal for the nation in his 5th senior game.