The Malta Under-21 team delivered a strong performance to clinch its first point in a match from Group 8 of the UEFA Under-21 Championship Qualifying Group 8 thanks to a hard fought 0-0 draw against a strong and physical Northern Ireland side at The Showgrounds in Ballymena.
Coach Silvio Vella drafted Gary Camilleri wide on the left for the injured Connor Zammit, making no other changes to the team which drew with Bosnia Herzegovina in a friendly match in June.
In the first half, the Maltese had to sit back at the early stages as they were suffering the Irish relentless pressure but the boys were tactically disciplined and gained confidence to steer away out of trouble.
In the second half, the Maltese players kept their composure and stayed focussed and at the end the draw is just what they deserved in a bitterly cold evening in Ballymena.
Northern Ireland started brightly and on the 13th minute, Shea Gordon lashed into a low cross from the left but his finish went wide off the mark.
Malta responded well and on the half hour mark Sliema’s Kurt Shaw went close as he used his length to outjump the Irish defence but his towering header went just wide off the Celtic keeper’s goal Conor Hazard.
The second half saw Northern Ireland gaining possession from the word go but it was Malta who came close again Floriana forward Jan Busuttil blasted a low powerful shot from 25 yards out with Hazard performing a rather difficult save.
On the hour mark, Malta went close once again with a good move started by Zachary Brincat and ended with Kurt Shaw shooting over from just outside the box.
A minute later Jake Dunwoody for Northern Ireland had an attempt on goal but Malta keeper Vella was in the perfect place to block his shot. Seconds later, Robert Burns saw his close range header from a corner going just over.
On the 71st minute, a David Parkhouse header drifted over the bar for Northern Ireland.
Until the end, the Malta players managed to retain possession in a number of occasions and brilliantly managed to slow the tempo of the game down to keep their resilient opponents at bay.
Malta will be in action once again on as they take on Ukraine who lost 0-2 to Finland at the same venue of Tuesday’s game – the Metallurh Stadium in Zaporizhia
N. IRELAND Conor Hazard, Eoin Toal, Robert Burns, Kofi Balmer, Jake Dunwoody, Alfie McCalmont (71′ Ethan Galbraith), Kyle McClean (78′ Lewis McCann), David Parkhouse, Shea Gordon (72′ Cameron Palmer), Lewis Thompson, Caolan Boyd Munce (88′ Cristopher Gallagher).
MALTA Andreas Vella, Zachary Grech, Gary Camilleri, Kurt Shaw, Nick Pulis, Jean Borg, Aidan Friggieri (Jan Tanti 81), Michele Sansone, Zachary Brincat (Omar Elouni 92), Jan Busuttil (David Xuereb 69), Myles Beerman.
Referee: Ferenc Karako (Hungary).