Stephen Craigan’s Northern Ireland side won the Elite section of the Dale Farm Milk Cup thanks to a 1-0 win over Canada, with Aaron McEneff grabbing the crucial goal.
Northern Ireland’s first chance of the match arrived in the sixth minute when winger Levi Ives flighted in a marvellous ball towards the back post. Comber lad Simon Hanna met the ball with a firm header but his effort was cleared by a Canadian defender before Mikhail Kennedy was able to turn it into the back of the net.
Canada players believed the should have been awarded a penalty in the 29th minute when Aparicio Manuel’s flick was blocked by Josh Doherty. The Canadians’ shouts for handball were waved away by referee Raymond Hetherington.
In the 31st minute captain Jamie Harney headed a Josh Doherty corner-kick over the bar, as Northern Ireland tried to find a foothold in the game.
Sean Mullan had two chances in the space of a few seconds in the 37th minute. Mullan found a little pocket of space before drilling the ball against the post. Levi Ives then collected the ball on the left-hand side before swinging a cross towards Mullan. This time his header was easily collected by Nolan Wirth in the Canada goal.
Within a minute, Canada had their best chance of the first half. Dylan Carreiro found some space on the right-hand side of the box but his shot was driven into the side netting.
Ives continued to impress down the left-wing. In the 42nd minute his run and low cross was only intercepted by Canada’s Luca Gasparotta.
In first half stoppage time Sean Mullan had another chance, but his miss-hit effort didn’t cause Canada any real problems.
The first chance of the second half fell to Mikhail Kennedy in the 46th minute but his turn and shot was stopped by Nolan Wirth in the Canada goal.
Northern Ireland took control of the game in the 53rd minute when Mikhail Kennedy burst into the Canada box. The midfielder was brought to ground by Canada’s Luca Gasparotto. Referee Raymond Hetherington seemed to take an age to point to the spot, but he eventually gave the penalty.
Tottenham Hotspurs man Aaron McEneff stepped up and stroked the ball beyond Nolan Wirth with a low but powerful penalty, to give Northern Ireland the lead.
Canada thought they’d equalised with 10 second of McEneff’s goal. While the Northern Ireland team celebrated in front of the home stand Canada took a quick kick-off and ran towards goal, where striker Dylan Carreiro slotted the ball past Chris Johns.
Carreiro and his team-mates protested furiously when referee Hetherington disallowed the goal as Northern Ireland weren’t ready. The Ulstermen looked totally baffled by the bizarre incident, as none of them bar goalkeeper Johns had noticed the Canadians sneaky move.
Dale Gorman was introduced to the field of play in the 68th minute. The youngster made headlines around the world on Wednesday night after he was kicked by Mexican player Carlos Arreloa. Although the incident looked nasty, Gorman’s injuries were minimal and he received a warm round of applause when he entered the pitch.
But if the Milk Cup Committee thought this Elite game would pass without incident, they were soon to be disappointed. Sheffield Wednesday man Simon Hanna received his second yellow card of the game for a rash challenge on Canada’s Luca Gaspearotto. Hanna was furious with referee Hetherington, but in truth it was a straight forward decision for the local official.
Canada had a great chance to equalise in the 79th minute after a lovely bit of interplay between Kianz Froese and Calum Ferguson. It was Froese who had the final effort but Chris Johns was out quickly to make a smothered save.
Canada’s last chance of the game came in the 89th minute when Louis Beland-Goyette tried his luck from 20 yards. Chris Johns spilled the initial effort, but he was up quickly to gather the ball before Canada could pounce.
Northern Ireland : Johns, Doherty, Harney, Lowe, Ives, Gray (62 Smart), McCawl, McEneff, Hanna, Kennedy, Mullan (68 Gorman)
Subs : Smart, Mitchell, Glendinning, McDonagh, Fallon
Canada : Wirth, Duncan, Comsia, Gasparotto, Beland-Goyette, Huitema, Carreiro (89 Jalali), Manuel (68 Nanco), Haynes (78 Kennedy), Cabrera (57 Boakai), Frose
Subs : Saint-Cyr, Farmer, Ferguson, Carducci