Northern Ireland u21’s will hope to ride on the crest of last night’s wave created by their seniors in holding European Champions Italy at the National Stadium.
Mourneview Park (kick-off 7.30) is the scene for this evening’s meeting with Malta where the Irish will hope to emphasize a recent change in direction to their Euro u21 qualification chances.
Having lost away to this evening’s opponent and the top two seeds, last Friday’s 4-0 demolition of Lithuania at Ballymena has provided a platform upon which to build.
Alfie McCalmont on loan to Morecambe from Leeds United, was the two-goal hero by the Braid and he could be joined by several of the u21 lads who were involved with the senior side over the current break.
Ethan Galbraith, scorer of the winning penalty against Slovakia which brought Northern Ireland’s first three points in the group is expected to return to lead the side. Galbraith, on loan from Manchester United to Doncaster Rovers, should be joined by Nottingham Forest’s Dale Taylor and Liverpool’s Conor Bradley each of whom lined out alongside him on the bench against Italy last night.
Revenge will also be on the minds of John Schofield’s side, who began the campaign with an underwhelming, shock 1-4 reversal against the Maltese in Valetta. Malta has lost all four subsequent games.
Three points tonight and Northern Ireland’s chances look much rosier than a week ago, especially if group leaders and favourites Spain can win in Khimki against the Russians, also this evening.
Russia, Northern Ireland and Slovakia look set to battle it out for the second spot, which would guarantee a spot in the play-offs for the finals tournament being co-hosted by Georgia and Romania in 2023.
Cliftonville striker Paul O’Neill will be eyeing this evening’s game to create a little history. Should he register it will be his fifth goal at this level making him joint-top scorer in NI u21 history.
A win will bring the maximum 6 points from this window adding to 4 achieved by the full international team, an almost perfect break for the two highest levels in the men’s program.
Northern Ireland squad -
Goalkeepers – Liam Hughes (Liverpool), Ollie Webber (Crystal Palace).
Defenders – Conor Bradley (Liverpool), Aaron Donnelly (Nottingham Forest), Trai Hume (Linfield), Kofi Balmer (Larne), Finn Cousin-Dawson (Bradford City), Jack Scott (Wolverhampton Wanderers), Sean Stewart (Norwich City).
Midfielders – Ethan Galbraith (Doncaster Rovers on loan from Manchester United), Alfie McCalmont (Morecambe – on loan from Leeds United), Caolan Boyd-Munce (Birmingham City), Oisin Smyth (Dungannon Swifts), Barry Baggley (Fleetwood Town), Chris Conn-Clarke (Fleetwood Town), Carl Johnston (Fleetwood Town), JJ McKiernan (Watford), Paddy Lane (Fleetwood Town), Shea Charles (Manchester City).
Forwards – Paul O’Neill (Cliftonville), Harry Anderson (Portadown), Ryan Waide (Ballymena United), Calvin McCurry (Ards), John McGovern (Newry City), Dale Taylor (Nottingham Forest).