Malta 0-3 Northern Ireland: Ian Baraclough records his first win as manager thanks to goals from Jordan Jones, Gavin Whyte and Ali McCann
- Ian Baraclough recorded his first win as a manager of Northern Ireland in Austria
- Baraclough’s team eased to a 3-0 friendly win over Malta within 90 minutes
- Jones took advantage of a defensive error that took the lead barely two minutes later
- Gavin Whyte and Ali McCann then added two quick fire goals to finish the match
Ian Baraclough recorded his first win as a manager of Northern Ireland within 90 minutes as they eased to a 3-0 friendly win over Malta in Austria.
After Jordan Jones took advantage of a defensive foul just two minutes, quick second-half goals from Gavin Whyte and Ali McCann ended the game like a match.
It wasn’t always convincing against a team ranked 175th in the world that faced a host of issues that came into play, but the experienced squad chosen by Baraclough ended up getting the job done in a match which was hastily arranged after a planned trip to Turkey fell victim to the pandemic.
Ian Baraclough (above) recorded his first win as manager of Northern Ireland in Austria
Baraclough had some new faces on his 22-man squad for the game, but they all had to wait on the bench when he picked a strong side, including Stuart Dallas as captain, Craig Cathcart, Paddy McNair and Josh Magennis.
Meanwhile, Malta coach Devis Mangia had expressed concerns about the fitness of his squad, which is made up almost entirely of domestic players at a time when the Maltese Premier League has been suspended since March.
And there was certainly a great deal of rust in the terrible clearance played by Ferdinando Apap, once of Sheffield FC in the Northern Premier League, when he accidentally played Jones on the edge of the area with barely 90 seconds to go.
Baraclough’s team eased within 90 minutes to a 3-0 friendly win over Malta on Sunday
Jordan Jones (left) took advantage of a defensive error that took the lead just two minutes later
The Rangers winger duly penalized the foul when he shot behind Henry Bonello for his first international goal.
It was Northern Ireland’s first goal in the first half in their last 10 internationals, but hopes that it could lead to a free-scoring 45 minutes were dashed.
Malta offered opportunities, with another defensive confusion between Kurt Shaw and Teddy Teuma nearly holding Whyte in before Shaw made a mistake on the loaned Hull forward to allow a penalty.
Magennis, however, went for power over placement and saw his penalty kick saved by Bonello.
While Northern Ireland missed opportunities, Malta grew steadily in the game, threatening as Luke Montebello hit the side net before Shaun Dimech poked next to it.
Malta had the lead in possession and Northern Ireland struggled to earn what they paid as they repeatedly got into traffic or sidelined while their opponents defended in numbers and then tried to break.
Gavin Whyte and Ali McCann (right) then added two quick fire goals to finish the game
Baraclough hopes his side will continue its impressive form at Euro 2020
Dallas, captaining the squad for the second time, was largely unable to influence the game from a central position, but was given an assist himself when Northern Ireland doubled the lead after seven minutes in the second half.
Shaw could only clear Jones’ crotch up to the Leeds man, who quickly fed Whyte to shoot home.
And Dallas was involved in the third moments later when his movie found the flight of McNair, feeding McCann to do the job.
The pace slowed as the substitutions began, with Accrington striker Dion Charles earning a second cap, while there was a late debut for 17-year-old Liverpool defender Conor Bradley, who has set in alongside Alfie McCalmont with five minutes to go.
Baraclough will know that such a performance would not have been enough had the game against Turkey continued, and more will be needed as they face Euro 2020-bound Ukraine in Dnipro on Thursday in Dnipro.
But with the World Cup qualifiers against Lithuania and Switzerland in September and after a long wait for both a win and goals – the first time they had more than once in a match during his tenure – Baraclough will certainly draw a lot from the result .