Valiant Welsh performance not enough as Northern Ireland salvage draw

Northern Ireland have picked up their first point of European Championship Qualifying as they fought to a 2-2 draw with the Welsh in Newport.

Both sides left everything on the pitch in an emotional encounter that got the better of the players at times.

Wales raced out of the gates looking to put early pressure on Northern Ireland but it was the visitors that stuck first.

Simone Magill got the opening goal – setting the scene for an impressive performance for the Northern Irish No.9. A well-placed header from the first corner of the game gave them the lead.

Wales struck back ten minutes later, however they were fortunate to do so. Angharad James – arguably the best player on the pitch – had her shot deflected by teammate Emma Jones, taking the ball past Emma Higgins in the Northern Irish goal. The goal was then awarded to Jones after the game.

James had one of the stand-out performances at Rodney Parade. She was absolutely everywhere throughout the game. Her tireless midfield work cut out the majority of Northern Ireland’s positive play before it even began.

A Passionate Affair

Another stand-out from the Welsh side was Kayleigh Green. The Wales forward was making good, intelligent actions throughout the game that resulted in her scoring the home side’s second of the game.

Liverpool right-back Rhiannon Roberts popped up with a beautiful cross, which Green did well to get on the end of. Higgins with no chance of saving the header.

Green’s passion when scoring was second to none. You could see the amount of emotion seeping out of the players.

There were some rough tackles coming in at this point, with three of the Northern Irish players being booked for various offences. Even with these cautions it still felt like referee Ainara Dudley was being lenient.

Green was visibly angry and needed to be talked down by Wales coach, Jayne Ludlow a good ten minutes after the match had finished.

Green told HerFootballHub how badly she wanted to win this match. It’s understandable to be that frustrated when you think it was out of your hands.

94th Minute Miracle

When all seemed lost for Nothern Ireland, they were awarded a free-kick in the 94th minute.

Laura O’Sullivan could only push the cross onto the crossbar, which rebounded into the path of Northern Irish captain, Ashley Hutton.

Hutton got her head to the ball before anyone else could react, rescuing a point for the Green and White.

Just before this, Northern Ireland had hit the bar and had the ball cleared, so this definitely made amends.

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Overall, a draw was the fairest result possible. Both sides cancelled each other out for the most part, with neither playing much better than the other.

The over-arching theme was both teams being unable to move the ball into the attacking third and keep it. It was a defensively-minded midfield clinic.

Separated by 27 places in the world rankings, it was evident how much this point meant to the Northern Irish. They ran over to their fans to celebrate after the final whistle.

This was Northern Ireland’s first point of Euro 2021 qualifying, after being beaten 6-0 by Norway.

The Welsh have to settle for being top of the qualification group by only a point, with Norway still to play.

This feels like a missed opportunity for Jayne Ludlow’s side. They would have wanted to keep up the early pressure on the Norwegians – who beat England 2-1.

In the other game in the group, Belarus beat the Faroe Islands 6-0. Making it two 6-0 defeats in a row for the Faroe Islands.