Wednesday 19 September 2018

King full of praise for unlucky U-21s

Norway 2 Ireland 1

Jake Mulraney marked his first competitive start at U21 by providing a brilliant equaliser. Photo by Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Jake Mulraney marked his first competitive start at U21 by providing a brilliant equaliser. Photo by Matt Browne/Sportsfile

John Fallon

Noel King praised his players after their unbeaten record in the U-21 European Championship qualifiers was destroyed by Iver Fossum's injury-time winner.

After senior international Martin Odegaard had fired Norway into a 19th-minute lead, Jake Mulraney marked his first competitive start at this level by providing a brilliant equaliser 13 minutes later.

The Inverness striker showed a clean pair of heels to skip past Ulrik Jenssen and bury his low shot beneath goalkeeper Per Bratveit.

However, just as Ireland looked to have earned a draw, which would have retained the five-point gap on Norway, Fossum struck from the edge of the box in stoppage-time following a corner.

"The boys are rightly very disappointed to lose to a late goal because they deserved a draw from that game," said King.

"To respond from going a goal down in sub-zero conditions on an artificial pitch shows the character of these players."

Norway's aspirations were helped by Real Madrid teenager Odegaard stepping down from the seniors and his influence was evident from early on.

His initial attempt to unlock the Irish defence with a flick failed miserably, but Odegaard's next involvement was far more effective.

Spotting Henrik Bjordal overlapping down the left, a 40-yard crossfield pass sent the Birk Risa into space and his delivery found Henrik Bjordal, whose header was brilliantly saved by Kieran O'Hara.

The hosts looked the more comfortable on the artificial surface and that played a part in their breakthrough after 19 minutes.

Centre-back Kristoffer Ajer advanced from deep to pick out Morten Thorsby and his first-time lay-off sent Bjordal raiding into the box. Ryan Sweeney slipped and the Brighton striker cut the ball back for Odegaard to nip in, round O'Hara and finish from close range.

Ireland's response was immediate, with Declan Rice breaking up the play and setting up Mulraney to equalise.

Germany took over top spot with a 5-2 win away to Israel, but Ireland remain well in contention to claim a place in the play-offs.

Ireland - O'Hara (Manchester United); Whelan (Liverpool), Sweeney (Bristol Rvs), Donnellan (Walsall), Kane (Huddersfield); Rice (West Ham), Cullen (Bolton Wdrs); Charsley (Everton), Mulraney (Inverness), Curtis (Derry City); Manning (QPR). Sub: C Ronan (Wolves) for Manning (68 mins)

Irish Independent

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