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McLaughlin international duty

14 November 2012

Fleetwood Town’s Conor McLaughlin featured in the second half of Northern Ireland U21s’ game against England at Bloomfield Road, but could not prevent his side from slipping to a 2-0 defeat.

By Liz Owen

Fleetwood Town’s Conor McLaughlin featured in the second half of Northern Ireland U21s’ game against England at Bloomfield Road, but could not prevent his side from slipping to a 2-0 defeat.

England took the lead on the stroke of half-time through Sunderland’s Connor Wickham after a Jordan Henderson free-kick, and doubled their advantage with 15 minutes to go after substitute Benik Afobe, on loan at Bolton, both won and took a penalty kick. McLaughlin replaced Watford’s Lee Hodson at half-time to line up at right-back, Town’s summer signing given the difficult task of containing the lively Jack Robinson down England’s left flank, as well as Afobe after Andros Townsend was substituted during the second half. Hodson had, at times, struggled against Robinson and Townsend as they breached Northern Ireland’s defence to reach the byline and provide crosses in for England’s strikeforce. But, despite the scoreline, McLaughlin looked composed in a slower-paced second half, as both sides made several substitutions throughout the 45 minutes and adjusted their playing style suitably. Town’s defender was even able to claim a shot on target in a rare Northern Ireland attack, but he had already been ruled offside and his attempt was easily controlled by ‘keeper Jason Steele. Wickham and Afobe both posed significant threat to Northern Ireland, but it was noticeable that England generally opted to channel more attacks on their opponents’ left flank. And, just like Tom Ince and Townsend had done in the first half, their replacements Afobe and Martyn Waghorn often swapped sides, ensuring McLaughlin was kept on his toes. Robinson had earlier set up a number of opportunities, including a magnificent chance for Wickham to take the lead after just 16 minutes. The Liverpool defender evaded Hodson to creep along the byline and lay the ball off for Wickham to crash against the crossbar; Ince was quickest to the rebound, but his subsequent shot was blocked. Blackpool’s Ince enjoyed the spotlight as he represented his country on home soil, creating plenty for England as he demonstrated his skill with the ball at his feet. With 18 minutes to go, he fired a shot from close range after continual England pressure had allowed him to keep possession inside the penalty area, but Northern Ireland ‘keeper Conor Devlin showed quick reflexes to make a save. Ince left the pitch to a standing ovation shortly after England bagged their second through Afobe. After a storming run into the area, the on-loan Bolton youngster was upended by Devlin and smashed his resulting penalty kick to the ‘keeper’s left. The deadlock had been broken seconds before referee John Beaton signalled the end of the first half. Townsend won a free-kick 25 yards out to the right of goal and captain Henderson swung in the resulting set-piece, Wickham perfectly placed to power home a header at the near post. The victory was well-deserved after England had enjoyed the best of a relatively low-key occasion, maintaining the pressure on a Northern Ireland side who struggled to get a foothold on the game and could not find a convincing way past their opponents’ defence. It is Stephen Robinson’s side’s eighth successive defeat, a run which had already ended their hopes of qualifying for the Under 21s European Championships, while McLaughlin won his seventh under-21 cap of his career so far.

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