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Wales manager Jayne Ludlow brought a three-day training camp with her Under-19 side to a close with a midday friendly on a cold afternoon at the Miller Argent Community Stadium in Merthyr, and will take plenty of positives from what was an encouraging performance from her young side as they won 3-2 against Northern Ireland in their friendly match.
Wales enjoyed the better of the possession in the opening exchanges, with the majority of their attacking play starting from a defensive back line impressively marshalled by Amelia Ritchie. However, the opening goal arrived against the run of play after 11 minutes when Irish striker Shannon Holloway capitalised on a poor clearance from goalkeeper Grace Thomas-Parr to hand Alfie Wylie's side the lead.
The home side were keen to make deserved amends and on 16 minutes the equaliser arrived in spectacular style as Lois Regan stepped up to drive a superb free kick past Shannon Turner and into the top corner of the net. The goal visibly lifted Ludlow's young side, and minutes later Regan almost turned creator when her square ball across the area found Charlie Estcourt in space, but Turner denied her from close range with a fine save.
Chloe Chivers continued to cause problems for the Irish defence, and the Wales forward was twice denied by Turner midway through the half as the home side looked to build on their equalising goal. However, Northern Ireland slowly worked their way back into the game, and on 33 minutes Emma McFarland saw her free kick saved by Thomas-Parr, before Samantha Kelly struck an effort wide of the post for the visitors.
The second half started with a heavy rain shower and an increasing wind in favour of the visitors. However, on 49 minutes Wales took the lead when Regan controlled the ball on the left wing before whipping the ball across the Irish defence and into the far corner of the net, with more than a little help of a deflection taking the ball past Turner.
Wales extended the lead on 56 minutes when substitute Lily Stevens collected the ball on the right and fired a well placed shot into the far corner of the net. However, Stevens would find herself forced out of the game ten minutes later with an ankle injury. With the momentum clearly in their favour, Wales began to dominate for long periods, with the play only broken by a string of substitutions as both managers looked to give each member of their respective squads some game time.
Northern Ireland looked to get themselves back into the game on 77 minutes, but Samantha Kelly had her strike saved as another heavy shower added to the pace of the artificial surface, Eventually the visitors did pull a goal back when captain Hannah Doherty fired a free kick against the underside of the bar on 85 minutes before it bounced over the line of Thomas-Parr's goal.
However, Wales held on for a welcome victory, while the match also proved to be worthwhile exercise for Northern Ireland as manager Alfie Wylie prepares his side for the UEFA Elite qualifying round of fixtures against Italy, Spain and host nation Denmark in April.
Wales: Grace Thomas-Parr, Lauryn Lyons, Niamh Tinman, Imogen Lancaster, Shaunna Jenkins, Amelia Ritchie, Jenni Buckley, Charlie Estcourt, Chloe Chivers, Ellie Lake, Lois Regan. Subs: Aimee Watson, Aleisha Cruwys, Gwen Davies, Evie Gane, Caitlin Morris.
Northern Ireland: Shannon Turner, Courtney Moore, Hannah Doherty, Teresa Burns, Clara Mulvenna, Sarah Haddock, Annie Timoney, Victoria Carleton, Shannon Holloway, Chloe McCarron, Samantha Kelly. Subs: Jessica Poots, Kirsty McCaughtry, Broadie Olive, Hayley Anderson, Emma McFarland, Sarah McKillen, Alison McMaster, Chelsea Sheerin, Harriet King.
(Report by www.faw.org.uk)
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