Northern Ireland Under-21s EURO 2019 hopes still alive after Daniel Ballard scores winner in Iceland

Northern Ireland's Shayne Lavery was in good form last night
Northern Ireland's Shayne Lavery was in good form last night

Daniel Ballard’s late winner kept alive Northern Ireland Under-21s’ Euro 2019 play-off qualification hopes as they snatched a 1-0 win over Iceland in Reykjavik.

Arsenal defender Ballard headed home Jamie McDonagh’s corner in the last minute of normal time to ensure the fight for qualification will continue into Tuesday’s final qualifier at home to Slovakia.

Victory there will keep Northern Ireland in with a chance of reaching the play-off as one of the top four second-placed teams.

Ballard’s winner came at the end of some sustained pressure from the visitors in the closing stages, but they first had to weather several Iceland attacks in the first-half as the hosts tried to get something from the encounter.

The hosts were firmly on the front foot in the opening 45 minutes but wayward shooting let them down as Julius Magnusson, Alfons Sampsted, Ottar Karlsson, and Samuel Friajonsson all had chances, while Conor Hazard made a good save to deny Arnor Sigurdsson.

Northern Ireland enjoyed some decent build-up play heading in the opposite direction, but clear-cut chances were limited and McDonagh sent their only real opening wide five minutes before the break.

And they might have gone in behind but for Ballard’s late clearance off the line to deny Karlsson.

Ian Baraclough’s side were more successful at turning possession into chances.

Liam Donnelly and Shayne Lavery both had sights of goal but fired wide, while there were appeals for a penalty when Jordan Thompson hit the deck but the referee was not interested.

Northern Ireland continue to build pressure in the closing stages with Pierce Bird denied.

But just when it looked like ending in a draw, Ballard got his head on McDonagh’s corner to earn three vital points.

It was a great win for the Under-21’s and it will be a good couple of days if the full international team do the business tonight.