N. IRELAND 0
L. Hughes, T. Hume, O. Smyth (C. Boyd-Munce 72), K. Balmer, A. Donnelly, E. Galbraith, A. McCalmont, F. Cousin-Dawson, D. Taylor, P. Lane (J. McGovern 72), P. O’Neill (R. Waide 72).
C. Formosa, C. Zammit Lonardelli, C. Gauci (25 A. Bradshaw), M. Ellul, A. Garzia, M. Grima (G. Sciberras 62), A. Attard, A. Vella, J. Engerer, J. Carbone (A. Zammit 78), J. Ghio (B. Sciberras 62).
Referee Kari A Hovdanum (F. Islands FA)
Yellow cards Attard, Vella, Ellul,
Red card Hume (N. Ireland) 33.
Malta U-21 completed their commitments for the year on Tuesday with a convincing 2-0 win over Northern Ireland at the Mourneview Park. The side put up a composed showing to turn fortunes around after the previous bruising against group leaders Spain.
For Malta, the clash brought about fond memories after a first round 4-1 victory at the Centenary Stadium two months ago.
However, just as coach Gilbert Agius had predicted, the Northern Irish were out for retribution.
The Greens brought out a squad of players who ply their trade in England and Ireland, compared to Malta whose squad also required Division One players – a game which was on paper set to be a tough encounter.
Malta were without the services of Mattia Veselji yet again and the only change in formation from the game against Spain came upfront as Jamie Carbone started in place of Bradley Sciberras for coach Agius’ 3-4-3 formation.
The Northern Irish started strong and controlled most of possession in the opening half, but Malta maintained a compact defence. As a result, Malta goalkeeper Cain Formosa’s first save of the night came after 13 minutes from a freekick.
Crowding the centre of the pitch, Malta were giving the Greens a dangerous amount of space on the flanks and the Malta youngsters were under threat on 23 minutes, forcing another save from Formosa after Dale Taylor met a low cross from the right.
Malta suffered a setback halfway into the first half when Christian Gauci had to be taken of after a lingering injury took him out of the game, replaced by Adam Bradshaw.
However, they were handed a shot in the arm after the half hour when Northern Ireland defender Trai Hume was given his marching orders after being adjudged to have stomped Malta captain Ayrton Attard to free himself during a corner.
Despite this, Northern Ireland pressed on and looked the most likely to go ahead before the break.
All of this changed as Malta forged ahead right after the change of ends. Marcus Grima pushed the ball from midfield, beat his marker outside the area and curled in a beautiful shot into the top corner with goalkeeper Liam Hughes having no chance to keep out the only shot at his goal so far.
On the other end, Malta were spared a scare just before the hour after an Alfie McCalmont cross was met by Kofi Balmer whose effort was blocked on the line.
Coach Agius effected a double change bringing on Bradley and Gianluca Sciberras on 62 minutes in place of goalscorer Grima and Jake Ghio, as Malta shifted confidence from the Northern Irish onto themselves.
The home side sensed the need for a different approach with 18 minutes to go and replaced three players at once but with Malta containing the waves of Green sent into their half, Carbone made way for Andrea Zammit on 77 minutes and Malta kept the game in the balance.
Six minutes from time, Formosa came to the rescue again as a long throw drifted across goal and the Malta shot stopper pushed it away for a corner. The Northern Irish piled on more pressure with a Taylor shot which went just wide.
But a minute from time, this pressure worked against them as substitute Zammit slammed the game shut with a shot from a Jake Engerer throughball.