The ESFA U18 Boys International Team made a short journey from their base at the La Mon Hotel in Castlereagh for the late afternoon inspiresport Centenary Shield match against their counterparts from Northern Ireland. Snow could be seen on the nearby hills as the team bus made its journey to the small town of Comber, about 10 miles outside Belfast. The game was played at Comber Rec Football Club on a soft pitch which proved to be a great leveller. However, conditions were bright and sunny although the temperature could only have been a few degrees above freezing point. The local club had done a fantastic job in getting the pitch fit for the game following a great deal of rain.
The first half was largely uneventful with little goalmouth action. After 26 minutes of play ESFA skipper Ursene Mouanda was yellow carded for what was deemed to be a dangerous tackle. Both sides looked solid at the back but there was little controlled football from either team.
Ten minutes into the second half a great Zak Lilly header was superbly tipped over by Northern Ireland’s keeper, Jack Ferguson. At the time England were looking technically the better team although Northern Ireland were on many occasions first to the ball.
England substituted their captain Ursene Mouanda after 69 minutes and changed from a 4-3-3 formation to 4-4-2. Substitute Joe Thomas, playing out wide on the left, made an immediate impact by netting a close range header following great work down the right by Josh Shonibare. His cross was hit goalwards by Aaron Smith but a great parry into the air by the Northern Ireland keeper was met with his head by Thomas.
The Northern Ireland team were not disheartened by going a goal behind and eventually forced an equaliser after 80 minutes play. The ball was fired forward into the penalty area and after a couple of blocks was eventually put in the back of the net by Northern Ireland substitute Nathaniel Ferris. The keepers were called on to make saves as both teams pressed for what would inevitably be the winning goal. After 88 minutes a rash challenge in the penalty area by a home defender resulted in a penalty for the visitors. Zak Lilly hit the ball firmly into the corner of the net to secure all 3 points for England.
Match line-up: Andrew Wycherley (G/K), George O’Malley, Samuel Orisatoki, Matthew Cook, Josh Wisson, Ursene Mouanda (sub Joe Thomas 69 mins), Joshua Shonibare (sub Adam Grange 90 mins), Cianan Breen, Aaron Smith (sub Sam Woodward 85 mins), Ben Bradshaw, Zak Lilly.
Substitutes not used: James O’Halloran, Dan Lawrence (G/K sub), George Lamb, Joe Hartshorne