Northern Ireland ease to friendly victory over Maltaon May 30, 2021 at 5:50 pm

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Ian Baraclough secures a first win in 90 minutes as Northern Ireland manager at the 12th attempt thanks to a 3-0 victory over Malta in Austria.

Ali McCann lifts the ball over keeper Henry Bonello to score Northern Ireland's third goal

Jordan Jones, Gavin Whyte and Ali McCann were on target in Austria.

“I was pleased with scoring three goals, and obviously with creating chances and finally getting the rewards for it,” said Baraclough.

“And keeping a clean sheet as well – it was very pleasing.”

Jones capitalised on poor defending to score an early opener before Josh Magennis saw his penalty saved by Malta keeper Henry Bonello in a largely disjointed first half.

Northern Ireland improved in the second half with two goals in three minutes.

Ian Baraclough watches his team chalk up comfortable victory on Sunday evening

Whyte fired home at the back post before McCann calmly slotted in from close range.

The second-half display will boost confidence ahead of Thursday’s friendly, also to be played behind closed doors, against Ukraine in Dnipro.

“The way we started both halves is something we’ve discussed, we wanted to start quickly and put the opposition on the back foot and we certainly did that,” added Baraclough.

“The team as a whole ticked most of the boxes. Looking at it, I think we’ve played better actually in other games and not got the rewards so I’m delighted we have got the rewards and can enjoy looking at a lot of that performance.”

Baraclough breaks ‘duck’ in Klagenfurt

The win in 90 minutes finally arrived for the Northern Ireland boss but it was uncomfortable viewing in the first half despite the early goal.

Ferdinando Apap’s errant pass gifted Jones the opportunity and the Rangers winger took it with a low shot clipping off Bonello before flying in.

Bonello got down to save Magennis’ spot-kick on 21 minutes – awarded for Kurt Shaw’s foul on Whyte – and the miss summed up a scrappy opening 45 minutes from Northern Ireland.

Malta went into the game 127 places below their opponents in the world rankings but they edged the first half with Joseph Mbong and Luke Montebello both going close.

There was more zip and purpose from Northern Ireland on the restart and Whyte smashed in from a Stuart Dallas pass to make it 2-0 after 53 minutes.

It was quickly followed by number three as McCann was picked out by Paddy McNair and he delivered a deft finish beyond Bonello to put the game beyond a wilting Malta side.

Who caught the eye?

Most of the game was played out in typical end-of-season friendly mode and there were no standout performers throughout the 90 minutes.

Jones and McCann will be boosted by scoring their first international goals and both were taken with aplomb.

Dallas oversaw a victory as Northern Ireland captain in the absence of Steven Davis and it’s vital experience for the in-form Leeds man.

Delight for Gavin Whyte after he made it 2-0 at the Worthersee Stadion

McNair set up McCann for the third goal and the Middlesbrough man was a valuable offensive asset from midfield without Davis pulling the strings.

And there was a Northern Ireland senior debut for Liverpool youngster Conor Bradley after his introduction at the Worthersee Stadion in the final minutes.

Chelsea defender Sam McClelland was the other uncapped player in the squad and the defender may make his first appearance in Thursday’s friendly with Euro 2020-bound Ukraine.

Daniel Ballard missed the game as he celebrated helping his Blackpool side to victory in the League One play-off final on Sunday.

The defender will be available for the Ukraine match, along with Kilmarnock striker Kyle Lafferty.

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