Northern Ireland battle to the end but Austria ensure their exit

Northern Ireland's Sarah McFadden after Austria score their second goal during Monday's Women's Euros match at St Mary's Stadium, Southampton. Photo by William Cherry/Presseye
Northern Ireland's Sarah McFadden after Austria score their second goal during Monday's Women's Euros match at St Mary's Stadium, Southampton. Photo by William Cherry/Presseye

Euro 2022 Group A, round 2: Austria 2-0 Northern Ireland

NO eleventh hour reprieve for Northern Ireland on 'the Eleventh evening'; instead their faint hopes of progress went up in smoke thanks to two Katharinas wheeling away in delight after Austrian goals.

First right centre-back Katharina Schiechtl rewarded Austria's first half dominance before the opening quarter was over, then her name-sake, substitute Naschenweng sealed a deserved victory with a well-taken late second.

That scoreline probably fairly reflected the balance of the match, with the team in red generally on top, although Northern Ireland were denied a decent looking penalty shout for a push on Sarah McFadden late in the first half.

However, Austria and Arsenal goalkeeper Manuela Zinzberger wasn't stretched at any stage, even as the girls in white sweated in the sun in an effort to force an equaliser.

In contrast, her opposite number Jackie Burns had to save smartly from Barbara Dunst, and also let a shot from the left-sided attacker slip through her gloves and was relieved to see it fall on the net not into it.

Still, as ever the Green and White Army sang their hearts out throughout and applauded the team like victors at the end.

As technically the 'away' team the 'girls in green' once again had to wear their new change kit of white against the Austrians in red.

Home advantage will only come kit-wise against England, ironically, back here on Friday night.

Manager Kenny Shiels may roll the dice again, having made four changes to the team which started the 4-1 loss to Norway.

As expected, captain Marissa Callaghan led the team out, brought in for Nadene Caldwell, with the two Rebeccas - McKenna and Holloway - as wing-backs, replacing Abbie Magee and Kelsie Burrows. Kirsty McGuinness was the choice to come in for the unfortunate Simone Magill, whose tournament was ended by a serious knee injury sustained late on against the Norwegians.

Austria boss Irene Fuhrmann made three changes from their narrow 1-0 loss to England, with Schiechtl in at right-back for Wienrother, and Hobinger and Hickelsberger-Fuller for Feiersinger and Naschenweng in midfield.

The game started in some confusion, with Austria briefly taking the knee, to NI's surprise - but the middle Europeans were very much on the front foot from the outset.

The 'commentator's nightmare' Hickelsberger-Fuller soon had as many touches as letters, but headed across the face of goal from a fine cross by Dunst. That was a rare ball which wasn't cleared by the immense McFadden.

Centre-forward Nicole Billa came close when she ignored offside appeals to slip through on the right, but shot into the side-netting under pressure from Demi Vance.

NI had to tighten up their left flank but unfortunately Vance was too physical, tripping the 19-letter surname lady - and the goal came from that free-kick.

From the viewpoint high in the stands, all eyes were on Schiechtl, towering over Callaghan. The obvious danger posed by the Werder Bremen player appeared to be her height, but when the free kick was delivered low-ish by Sarah Puntigam, it took a deflection off Nelson's outstretched boot in the two-woman wall and Schiechtl reacted smartly to clip the ball past a flat-footed Burns.

The goal did at least seem to deflate some of the pressure coming onto NI, and it wasn't until the 42nd minute that Austria threatened the goal again - and even then NI brought problems on themselves.

Burns gave the ball straight to Dunst on the left wing but recovered to tip the Eintracht Frankfurt midfielder's dipping effort over the bar.

Finally NI posed some danger themselves, thanks to who else but the magnificent McFadden. Challenging to get on the end of a Vance free kick, she was pushed in the back and went down - but neither the referee nor VAR considered it a penalty, even though it was in the 'seen them given' category.

Shiels's side had been more positive late in the first half and continued in that vein after half-time, even though Austria had sent on two fresh pairs of legs in ?????

However, it was Dunst who again almost beat Burns, with her snap half-volley fumbled onto the roof of the net.

With Southampton manager Ralph Hasenhuttl watching his home nation at his club ground, the national boss made two half-time changes, with their skipper Schnaderbeck replaced by Georgieva, and Feiersinger on for Hobinger in midfield.

Yet Northern Ireland were gaining a foothold in the match, with Vance more advanced, and Callaghan getting forward even more than she had endeavoured to do before break.

Even so, it was Dunst who nearly netted the next goal, her snap-shot half-volley escaping Burns's grasp but nestling on the roof of the net.

Chloe McCarron was making a midfield impact, and her centre was headed up and over by the otherwise quiet Rachel Furness.

Shiels went for broke, sending on youngsters Joely Andrews and Emily Wilson, then Caitlin McGuinness and Louise McDaniel, but a leveller came no closer.

Instead Austria finished strongly, and a punt again from Puntigam, launching a long free kick from her own half, caught out sub Abbie Magee, and Naschenweng held off McFadden to fire under the advancing Burns.

Austrai pushed for a third, but that would have been harsh on valiant opponents.

The dream is over, but Northern Ireland have always been in dreamland at these Euros. Even facing the top notch hosts England won't dampen the enthusiasm they have fired among female footballers.

Austria: Zinzberger; Schiechtl, Wenninger, Schnaderbeck (capt.) (Georgieva, h-t), Hanshaw; Puntigam, Hickelsberger-Fuller (Naschenweng, 73), Zadrazil, Hobinger (Feiersinger, h-t), Dunst; Billa (Makas, 85).

Northern Ireland: Burns; McKenna (Magee, 73), Nelson (McDaniel, 85), McFadden, Vance, Holloway; McCarron, Callaghan (capt.) (C McGuinness, 85), Furness (Andrews, 79); K McGuinness (Wilson, 79), Wade.

Referee: Emikar Caldera Barrera (Venezuala).