Northern Ireland 2-3 Wales
Defending champions Wales secured their first win of the 2016 Victory Shield on the final day of the competition thanks to a 3-2 victory over Northern Ireland.
Two goals in the opening fifteen minutes of the first half put Wales in a commanding position going into the break.
But after making five substitutions at half time, Northern Ireland emerged in the second half a stronger team and pegged Wales back twice, either side of Wales captain Michael Ellery’s strike.
The result means that Wales finish the Victory Shield level on points with Scotland whilst Northern Ireland finish bottom of the group having lost all three of their games.
Wales took the lead with their first attack of a half in which they completely dominated. Their front four of Jack Vale, Neco Williams, Bradley Gibbings and Daniel Griffiths were incredibly dangerous and their movement, pace and skill caused Northern Ireland problems all afternoon.
It was Vale that created the goal. After bringing down a high ball on the left wing with a lovely touch, Vale then dropped his shoulder and cut inside his full back before sending a low ball across the six yard box. Northern Ireland centre back Sam McClelland stretched his leg to try and block the cross, but unfortunately for him he could only turn the ball into his own net.
Vale and Williams were finding pockets of space all over the pitch and, thanks to Wales’ insistence on playing the ball out from the back, they were enjoying a lot of possession in dangerous areas. Both men looked capable of beating their men with ease and they seemed to glide around the pitch when on the ball.
Their workrate was admirable as well and the reason that Northern Ireland struggled to keep the ball in the first half was down to the Wales front four’s relentless pressure, and it was that pressure that led to the second goal.
A backpass created confusion in the Northern Ireland defence. Jordan McEneff looked to be waiting for his goalkeeper to come a collect the ball, but he never came. Instead, McEneff dithered in possession allowing Williams to charge in and steal the ball before prodding home beyond goalkeeper Tiernan Parker.
To their credit, Northern Ireland came out for the second half and played like a different team. Their five substitutions helped, especially the introductions of Ben Wilson and Connor Farrelly, and Northern Ireland were now able to attack with more urgency.
Northern Ireland were back in the game within fives minutes of the restart. For the first time in the game, Northern Ireland were able to turn Wales around. A lovely ball behind Wales left back Morgan Boyes played in Jack Scott. He got to the byline before looking up and clipping a cross back towards the penalty spot where Wilson was lurking. Wilson did well to keep his volley down and the ball bounced into the ground and zipped into the right side of Luke Burton’s goal.
Wales were now finding it harder to keep the ball. With Wilson now upfront and frantically closing down, Wales’ defenders weren’t allowed any time on the ball. Still though, Wales continued to look dangerous when their front four were in possession..
Vale was able to find space in the tightest of areas, as he shimmied and shifted the ball from left foot to right. After finding space on the edge of the box, Vale’s shot had to be tipped round the post by Parker. Then, from a similar position, his shot was deflected over the bar.
From the resulting corner Wales reestablished their two goal cushion. It was an instinctive finish from captain Ellery, whose left foot volley from a dropping ball found the bottom corner.
Then, from another corner, Northern Ireland replied six minutes later. The ball in from the right wasn’t properly dealt with by the Wales defence and it was allowed to go all the way through the box. Farrelly, whilst running backwards, then managed to hook a right foot volley over the heads of the Wales defenders and high into the net.
With time running out the pressure increased on the Welsh goal. Having already conceded one, they were looking vulnerable from set pieces. Scott was the next player to have a chance from a corner but his header went wide of the goal.
In the last few moments of the game Barry McKeown had a shot from the edge of the Welsh box and it took a mixture of Ryan Astley and Josh Hosie diving in front of the travelling ball to block the shot. Bodies were being put on the line.
But Wales managed to hold on. Scotland’s 3-0 defeat to Ireland in the later game confirmed Wales’ position of joint second in the Victory Shield table. Northern Ireland finished bottom, but there were plenty of positives to take out of their second half display.