NORTHERN IRELAND: Chris Johns, Josh Doherty, Tom Smart, Jamie Harney, Levi Ives, Eoghan McCawl, Dale Gorman, Simon Hanna, Reece Glendinning, Sean Mullan, Mikhail Kennedy.
CHINA: Jia Xin Yao, Han Xuan, Fu Yu Long, Huang Bo Wen, Xiang Han Tian, Zhou Da Di, Luo An Dong, Chen Jin, Ming Tian, Wei Zhao Kun, Long Wei.
Two well rehearsed free kick routines led to first half goals for Josh Doherty and Sean Mullan as Northern Ireland saw of the threat of China with a comfortable 2-0 victory at Ballymena Showgrounds.
Northern Ireland dominated the first half and arguably should have had the lead in the opening minutes, but for the referee to adjudge an early scrambled effort hadn’t crossed the line. The early exchanges saw Northern Ireland exert increasing pressure on the Chinese backline with their endeavours eventually bearing fruit. A well rehearsed free kick routine saw Eoghan McCawl’s delivery headed across the face of goal at the back post and finished with aplomb by Josh Doherty. Tom Smart could have doubled his country’s advantage five minutes later but failed to hit the target with a back post header when unmarked.
The home side continued to press, with a cross from Simon Hanna causing havoc in the Chinese penalty box on 42 minutes, no one in green was on hand however to turn the ball in.
Right on the stroke of half time Northern Ireland doubled their advantage, China had plainly failed to learn any lessons from the first goal, with another training ground rehearsed free kick routine culminating in a deft turn and finish from Sean Mullan.
The second half was a tamer affair, with Northern Ireland content to sit on their lead and China largely failing to threaten. Jamie McDonagh will be disappointed with his headed effort on 58 minutes when he neglected to hit the target from a central position in front of goal. The match was briefly halted a minute later during an amusing interlude, when the China manager protested so strongly against a decision against his side that his show came flying off – landing somewhere near the centre circle!
Robbie McDaid drew an appreciative round of applause on 71 minutes with a mazy run through the Chinese defence but despite an abundance of skill on show, it ultimately came to nothing. This was the only notable phase of play in the latter stages, with the heat long since taken out of the game. Next up for the hosts is a clash with Mexico at the Coleraine Showgrounds on Wednesday evening, with China taking on Canada at the Brandywell.
Report by Jordan Miller.