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Spirited Northern Ireland Under-21s earn draw in Finland
Lewis Thompson’s first-half goal earned Northern Ireland Under-21s their point.
Northern Ireland Under-21s battled to a hard-fought 1-1 draw away to Finland in the second match of their Euro 2021 qualifying campaign.
After a frustrating goalless draw at home to Malta on Friday, Ian Baraclough’s team had to settle for another point, but produced a spirited display to earn reward from this Group Eight fixture.
Finland, fresh from a 2-0 win over Ukraine last weekend, only needed four minutes to open the scoring in Oulu and at that point it looked set to be a long night for the visitors.
Northern Ireland captain and goalkeeper Conor Hazard made a fine save, but Onni Valakari was on hand to fire in the rebound.
It failed to deter Baraclough’s side and Stoke midfielder Jake Dunwoody went close to equalising with an effort which hit the post before the away team did level.
William Jaaskelainen, son of former Bolton stopper Jussi, denied Ethan Galbraith, but Lewis Thompson forced the ball home in the 35th minute on his second competitive appearance for the Under-21s.
The goalscorer was replaced at the break by Kyle McLean before Northern Ireland pressed for a second goal.
Finland remained a threat, though, and away skipper Hazard was called into action to deny Saku Ylatupa from a dangerous position in the 55th minute.
Both sides were pushing for the pivotal third goal of the game now and Jaaskelainen ensured Dunwoody did not grab it with a great save.
Northern Ireland manager Baraclough then made two more changes with Jack Scott and Cameron Palmer introduced in the 70th minute.
Callum Ferris joined them on the pitch with 14 minutes left and Finland’s Valakari was presented with a chance soon after, but saw his effort go wide.
It would prove the final genuine opportunity of the Group Eight encounter and means Northern Ireland remain unbeaten after two games, with a tally of two points ahead of trips to Denmark and Romania next month.