LURGAN Celtic striker Daniel Ryan scored the winning goal for Northern Ireland against San Marino in the UEFA Regions Cup on Wednesday night.
Ryan Moffatt had an early chance in the second minute for Northern Ireland. A right hand side cross found him unmarked in the penalty area, however his shot was not on target and hit the side netting The first real test for the San Marino keeper came in the 8th minute. Colum Curtis went on a terrific run beating three opposition players only to see his shot from outside the penalty area well saved.
As the first half progressed, the Eastern Region came to dominate the possession of play. However the San Marino defence was resolute with extra numbers from their midfield strengthening the back line. Their strategy was obvious from the start, to soak up the Eastern Region pressure and when possible counter attack with their speedy front players.
James Cully should have put Northern Ireland 1-0 up in the 21st minute. Another delivery from the right into the penalty area found the defender unmarked, however his headed effort was somehow saved again by the keeper.
Frustration did seem to creep into the Eastern Region game the more minutes ticked by without a goal. San Marino continued to work hard until half-time and they were rewarded for their endeavours in keeping the score line level at the break.
The boys in green did up the tempo from the beginning of the second half, however San Marino continued to make it hard for Harry’s boys to break them down. There were no clear cut opportunities for the Eastern Region until the 70th minute of play. A fine through ball from Banbridge Town’s Timmy Grant found Lurgan Celtic’s Daniel Ryan one on one with the San Marino goalkeeper. Ryan calmly lifted the ball over the keeper, with it finishing in the top right hand corner of the net.
Ryan’s goal proved to be the winner in what was a nervous affair for Northern Ireland. San Marino certainly gave 100% and for the rest of the second half continued to make life uncomfortable for Harry’s men.
In the end manager Harry McConkey was happy to scrape through with a slender victory. “Needless to say we never underestimated San Marino, and this assessment proved justified. From the beginning of play the hosts set their stall out and it was clear to see that most of their emphasis was focused on defending, while counter attacking whenever the opportunity arose.
“Consequently, we had to be very patient in possession and extremely careful when we did not have the ball. We did have a much greater share of the possession and I felt we were unfortunate not to be at least one goal up at half-time. In the second half we increased the tempo, especially in the final third and as a result we reaped the rewards with twenty minutes left of play. Timmy Grant found Daniel Ryan with an excellent penetrative pass, which was complimented by an excellent finish from Daniel.
“As in all mini-tournaments, I feel it is imperative to win your first game and use that early victory to gain momentum for the remainder of the week. It was tough, but these group of players done their country proud tonight.”