N. IRELAND 2
Two goals early in the second half were enough for the Northern Ireland to see off Malta in a UEFA U-21 Championship qualifier at the Centenary Stadium.
Silvio Vella’s boys put on a good challenge for much of the first half where they managed to share the exchanges with their opponents.
However, after the break Northern Ireland made the most of their superior physical power to strike twice in the space of ten minutes to bag their first in the competition.
On the other hand, the Maltese remained bottom of the group with just one point from five matches.
There was little to separate the two teams for much of the opening 30 minutes as neither side seemed to manage to hold the upperhand over their opponents.
Malta looked solid at the back and had some good opportunities to break through the Northern Ireland defence but poor delivery of the ball in the final third thwarted their hopes of making a breakthrough.
The game finally had its first shot on target on the half hour and it was the hard-working Myles Beerman who came close when he hit a rasping drive from 30 metres out that was pushed away by goalkeeper Conor Hazard.
Beerman had an even better chance on 34 minutes when he pounced on Ross Larkin poor control and broke through but the young winger took too much time to conclude and was blocked by goalkeeper Hazard.
However, it was the Northern Ireland who had the best chance of the half when they were awarded a penalty on the stroke of half-time when Beerman floored Ross Larkin inside the area. But from the spot, David Parkhouse saw his shot saved by Timmy Aquilina.
On the restart, the visitors were again close on 50 minutes when Alister McCann headed just over following a Daniel Amos cross.
The Maltese failed to heed the alarm bells as in their next opportunity Northern Ireland struck.
Amos sent another dipping cross towards Parkhouse who saw his header coming off the upright but in came Larkin to blast the ball into the net.
Here, Vella tried to infuse some fresh energy when he withdrew Aidan Friggieri and Jamie Zerafa and roped in Jan Busuttil and David Xuereb.
Malta’s reaction failed to arrive and instead it was the Northern Ireland who double their lead on 67 minutes.
Alistair McCann made space for himself inside the area and his low show was somehow kept out by Aquilina. However, Parkhouse was the quickest to react and fired the ball home.
From then on, there was little else to say as the visitors easily administered their advantage to cruise to their first victory in the qualifying campaign.