Northern Ireland’s latest goal-scorer Jamie Reid admitted he thought his opportunity to play international football had gone before he enjoyed a “dream” debut in Friday’s 1-1 friendly draw with Romania.

At 29 Reid was the oldest player in Michael O’Neill’s youthful starting eleven but he grasped his long-awaited chance as he put Northern Ireland in front just seven minutes in at the National Arena in Bucharest.

“It was an unbelievable start and a dream debut,” Reid said. “What a way to ease your way into international football by scoring in the first seven minutes. It was unbelievable…

“To be fair I came into this camp on a bit of a drought. I hadn’t scored for five or six games at my club so I knew I was due a goal and it was timed perfectly for here.”

In the decade since making two appearances for the Northern Ireland under-21s, Reid spent time on loan at non-league sides Dorchester and Truro before leaving Exeter for Torquay, Mansfield and most recently Stevenage, where he has scored 21 goals in 44 appearances this season to catch O’Neill’s eye.

“Five years ago I was playing in the Conference South for Torquay and I probably thought this day was gone but I got my head down and worked hard every time I got the chance to play,” Reid added. “I tried to express myself and it has got me to where I am now.”

Reid, who is eligible for Northern Ireland through his maternal grandmother, first learned he was in the frame for an international call-up a week before O’Neill named his squad for this window on March 14, something he called an “unbelievably proud” moment for him and his family.

He made the most of that opportunity, with O’Neill quickly impressed by his desire to learn. On Thursday, the manager told Reid he would be starting against Romania.

Northern Ireland were on the front foot from the start in Bucharest thanks to the youthful energy of Conor Bradley, Shea Charles, Isaac Price and others, and it was Bradley and Price who combined to set up Reid.

“I’ve only just been with the squad for the last two days but the emphasis on the quick counter attack was obviously what I saw,” Reid said. “It was a pleasure to play with those guys because they are good young players and Shea has gone through and put it on a plate for me really.

“I don’t want this to be the end of my international career. I want to kick on. It will be hard because there are good players here and good competition but I’m looking forward to it and my next goal is to part of the next team.”

Jamie Reid scored just seven minutes into his international debut as Northern Ireland earned an encouraging 1-1 draw away to Romania.

Stevenage striker Reid, getting his first taste of international football at the age of 29, gave Michael O’Neill’s men a dream start in Bucharest.

Euro 2024-bound Romania hit back when Dennis Man beat Conor Hazard for power in the 23rd minute, but O’Neill’s men will take confidence from the way they faced up to a side now unbeaten in 12 games as Conor Bradley shone on his return to Northern Ireland duty.

Northern Ireland suffered a miserable Euro 2024 qualifying campaign last year, but this result – a repeat of the 1-1 draw in this stadium during Nations League play in 2020 – comes on the back of an encouraging 2-0 win over Denmark in their final Group H fixture in November.

They will head into Tuesday’s friendly against Scotland in Glasgow in buoyant mood.

O’Neill’s team selection reflected the “rebirth” he had spoken about on Thursday, with experience in short supply in the absence of Jonny Evans.

Reid may have been making his debut more than a decade after featuring for Northern Ireland Under-21s, but he was still the oldest player in a starting XI with an average age of 23.5.

His goal was created by two 20-year-olds, with Bradley bursting down the right before slipping the ball inside for Shea Charles on the edge of the box.

The shot was potentially on for the Southampton man, but Charles saw the run of Reid to his left and squared the ball. Reid, earning his chance after scoring 21 goals in 44 games for Stevenage this season, lifted it over Florin Nita and in off the underside of the crossbar.

Bradley was back in the side for the first time since June following injury, but the intervening period has seen him go from a loan spell at Bolton to a starring role for Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool and his confidence was obvious as he proved a constant menace linking up with Isaac Price.

But, for all the promise going forward, Northern Ireland let themselves down when Romania levelled.

Man was able to slip between Brodie Spencer and Eoin Toal to bring down a raking long ball from deep and then cut back inside to create an angle. His shot was straight at Hazard, starting for the fourth time in five internationals, but it went straight through the goalkeeper’s hands.

Man then cut inside from the right to hit another powerful left-footed shot, but this one was blocked by his own team-mate George Puscas in front of goal.

Romania threatened again in first-half stoppage time as the ball came in to Vasile Mogos inside the box, but this time Spencer nicked the ball away just in time.

Bailey Peacock-Farrell, masked up after breaking his nose playing for Aarhus earlier this month, replaced Hazard at the break and after a quiet start to the second half Conor McMenamin replaced Paddy Lane – making his first appearance in almost two years – just after the hour.

Both teams had lost their zip. Reid ran out of legs as he charged at goal in the 70th minute and it was his last act before being replaced by Josh Magennis, while Ali McCann came on for Jordan Thompson.

There were late chances for Northern Ireland, but Paddy McNair’s shot was straight at Nita in the 79th minute before Price’s effort was turned wide for a corner.

At the other end, Ianis Hagi shot straight at Peacock-Farrell from the edge of the area, but the draw was a fair – and promising – result.

Michael O’Neill called Northern Ireland’s 2-0 win over Denmark a step in the right direction but knows his side remain a long way from the finished article.

In their final Group H fixture of a miserable campaign, O’Neill’s side finally beat someone other than minnows San Marino as second-half goals from Isaac Price and Dion Charles earned Northern Ireland their first competitive win over a team ranked above them since they beat Ukraine in June 2016.

It will not paper over the long list of issues facing O’Neill as he tries to rebuild his injury-ravaged squad, but it will provide a much-needed shot of belief and confidence at the end of a year which has seen supplies of both run low.

O’Neill has had to lean on several young players, more than he would have liked, whose introduction to international football has been a tough one, but a night like this can change the narrative.

“It’s totally different,” O’Neill said of the mood inside his dressing room. “You can see the young lads and you can see what it means to them. The ones who were involved in the previous campaign, I think they only won one game and this campaign we’ve only won three.

“We’ve been challenged in this campaign so they’ll take a lot from tonight.

“It’s a good result against a good team but that’s all it is. Hopefully they’ll come back in March with added confidence and belief, regardless of who the opposition are…

“I’m not getting carried away. It’s a step in the right direction and we have to take more steps in the right direction.”

Northern Ireland started well, with Dion Charles hitting the post eight minutes in before Eoin Toal headed wide.

Gradually Denmark, who have finished top of Euro 2024 qualifying Group H despite the loss, grew into the game but Conor Hazard, at fault for Finland’s second goal in Friday’s 4-0 defeat, made two fine saves before half-time to keep the scores level, and the game changed after the break.

Jamal Lewis, having one of his best nights in a Northern Ireland shirt, started the move that led to the first, moving the ball inside via Dion Charles and Shea Charles for Price to rifle in his second international goal.

Then Conor McMenamin came off the bench to send in the low ball that Dion Charles swept home.

After a long and difficult campaign in which Northern Ireland suffered five 1-0 defeats and failed to score in six of their 10 games, it was a welcome moment.

“It’s a very difficult campaign to judge,” O’Neill said. “To be competitive in any campaign we will need a consistency of selection, there’s no getting away from that.

“When we came into this campaign we felt we were going to have a different team and that we would have younger players around it who could energise the team and give us a lift if and when we needed it.

“We’ve ended up playing with a lot of those younger players more than we expected to but they’ve been terrific. Shea Charles has played nine out of 10 and was suspended for one, he’s barely missed a minute and his level of performance is top drawer.

“Isaac as well. I went to see Isaac in February playing in an under-20 game for Everton. I didn’t envisage he would be starting six or seven games, score two goals, playing in a variety of positions.

“These lads have gone through a massive transformation in their careers in the last eight months, never mind adapting to playing international football as well.”

Michael O’Neill admitted poor defending cost Northern Ireland dear in a damaging 4-2 defeat to Slovenia but it was another game of fine margins in Ljubljana.

Northern Ireland ended the night having created more chances than their hosts but on the wrong end of the scoreline as they struggled to contain Slovenia’s strike pairing of Benjamin Sesko and Andraz Sporar.

Isaac Price’s first international goal had cancelled out Sporar’s third-minute strike but all too quickly Northern Ireland were behind again when Petar Stojanovic’s strike deflected off Jonny Evans in the 17th minute, with Sesko giving Slovenia breathing space before the break.

Although Evans got O’Neill’s side back into it in the 53rd minute, almost immediately Sporar settled it to deliver what is surely a fatal blow to Northern Ireland’s hopes of progressing from Group H as they lost for a fourth straight match.

But although they conceded four, O’Neill could be happy with the attacking intent showed by his side, with Conor McMenamin carrying the threat after getting the nod on the right wing.

“It was a game full of incident clearly, six goals,” O’Neill said. “I thought we played very well in the game. We defended poorly at times, we struggled to deal with Sesko and Sporar who we knew would be the biggest threat and they proved to be that.

“But we did a lot of good things in the game. Some of the attacking play was very very good, we created a lot of chances and that was the best attacking play we’ve had in the campaign so far. Playing with two wingers helped us with the chances we created.

“The most disappointing thing in the game is how we managed the period in the game from 1-1 to 2-1, I think that was the period where we needed to be stable and we weren’t. Also from 3-2 to 4-2, we conceded too early after the game went to 3-2.

“We were trying to find a way back in the last 15 minutes and asked some questions and again the goalkeeper makes two or three good saves. It was an open game. I was disappointed to lose the game but pleased with a lot of aspects, some of the younger players were terrific.”

There were late chances for McMenamin and substitutes Josh Magennis and Paul Smyth, but although Northern Ireland had more possession and more chances than their hosts, they lacked the sort of firepower offered by RB Leipzig’s Sesko and Sporar of Panathinaikos.

After coming out on the wrong end of three consecutive 1-0 defeats, this was a very different result, but a similar story of Northern Ireland not being outplayed.

“The biggest difference in the game was probably the front two,” O’Neill said. “It’s a big part of the team. I don’t think we saw a lot between the teams on the night but they were clinical.

“Both Sorpar and Sesko were a threat all night. Some of our players were excellent as well and the chances we created, we’re probably disappointed we only scored twice in the game. We have to accept the defeat and move on.”

McMenamin was the brightest spark, with the 28-year-old showing the confidence gained from his summer move from Glentoran to St Mirren.

“Conor had a great game, he was very, very positive from the outset,” O’Neill said. “He’s a player who has come late to international football, late to professional football.

“In the summer he got his first move into the Scottish Premiership and I think he’s made great strides in the space of six to eight weeks he’s been in the there so there’s a lot more in Conor.”

Northern Ireland’s hopes of qualifying for Euro 2024 are all but over after they slumped to a fourth consecutive defeat, losing 4-2 to Slovenia in Ljubljana.

Although Isaac Price’s first international goal quickly cancelled out Andraz Sporar’s third-minute strike, Petar Stojanovic’s strike deflected off Jonny Evans to put the hosts back in front in a frantic start to the match, and Benjamin Sesko added a third before the break.

Evans got Northern Ireland back into it with a deflected strike in the 53rd minute, but only briefly as Sporar got his second moments later.

Defeat leaves Northern Ireland three places and seven points off second in Group H going into Sunday’s trip to Kazakhstan, with the dream of heading to Germany next summer effectively dead.

After three straight 1-0 losses Michael O’Neill could again claim his side had not been hugely outplayed, with Conor McMenamin particularly impressing as they created more chances than Slovenia.

But Northern Ireland’s defensive solidity deserted them and they simply do not have the firepower to match the likes of RB Leipzig’s Sesko.

The 20-year-old was involved as Slovenia breached the Northern Ireland defence inside three minutes. Shea Charles missed an interception and Sesko easily flicked the ball into the path of Sporar, who had time to beat the exposed Bailey Peacock-Farrell.

It was a dreadful start, but somehow Northern Ireland roused themselves to equalise with their first goal since the opening qualifier against San Marino in March.

McMenamin and Matty Kennedy – earning his first cap since March 2021 – came into the side as O’Neill stuck to his word to choose players in form at club level, with all but Evans having been regulars in the opening weeks of the season, and both were involved in the equaliser.

McMenamin’s cross from the right was aimed at Kennedy and when his shot was blocked by Atletico Madrid’s Jan Oblak, it fell for Price to fire in.

But soon after Slovenia were back in front. Stojanovic left Ciaron Brown in a heap as he cut in from the right, with the Sampdoria man’s cross taking a deflection off the luckless Evans to beat Peacock-Farrell as Northern Ireland appealed in vain for a foul.

It was the last involvement for Brown, who became the 17th Northern Ireland player to suffer an injury in this campaign, hobbling off to be replaced by Craig Cathcart – playing his first competitive football since June a day after signing for Belgian club Kortrijk.

McMenamin’s cross narrowly evaded Paddy McNair but it was Slovenia who thought they had a third 10 minutes before half-time when Sesko finished from close range, with the loud celebrations cut short once the stadium DJ belatedly noticed the flag was up for offside and play had resumed.

But Sesko would have his goal before the break. After Kennedy missed a chance to clear, Sesko wriggled away from Evans with his back to goal before hitting a powerful low left-footed strike on the turn to find the corner of the net.

O’Neill sent on Josh Magennis and Conor Washington for Kennedy and Dion Charles at the break but it was Slovenia who threatened again, with Sporar seeing a powerful effort cannon back off the crossbar from close range.

Hope was rekindled in the 53rd minute when a deflected strike from Evans beat the scrambling Oblak.

But that hope lasted barely three minutes before Sporar raced through the centre of the pitch, rounding Peacock-Farrell and rolling the ball into an empty net, and Northern Ireland could not capitalise on late chances for Magennis, McMenamin, and substitute Paul Smyth.

Northern Ireland’s injury curse struck again 15 minutes from time as the substitute Cathcart hobbled off, as if to underline the problem that has dogged Northern Ireland since before this doomed campaign began.

A frustrated Isaac Price said Kazakhstan had been “there for the taking” in Northern Ireland’s 1-0 Euro 2024 qualifying defeat at Windsor Park on Monday night.

Northern Ireland could not convert any of the 13 efforts they had at goal – with only one on target – and were punished at the death as Abat Aimbetov broke away to snatch an 88th minute winner.

It was a third consecutive 1-0 defeat for Michael O’Neill’s side, but where Friday’s loss away to Denmark had brought optimism, given a battling display against the group’s top seeds, a home defeat to a side ranked 50 places below Northern Ireland left a flat feeling.

“It’s very tough to take, frustrating really,” said Price. “We know we weren’t good enough. We knew they were there for the taking and we didn’t take our chances. We have to look back on it and improve for the next fixtures in September.”

O’Neill knows he must be patient with the many youngsters pressed into service ahead of schedule given an injury list which stretches into double figures. Price, 19, is on that list but the midfielder was not cutting himself any slack after the match.

“Personally I wasn’t good enough, technically on the ball and I didn’t create enough chances,” he said. “It was the same for the whole team really. We have to improve in the final third.

“We’re not too bad at the back, but we conceded a silly goal at the end so instead of taking a point, we lost everything.

“There was optimism coming in from the game on Friday night. We thought we deserved more against Denmark. We have to look back at the game and see where we can improve. There are so many areas where we can improve.

“We have two tough away games coming up in September, we have to go and try and get three points in both.”

Price, earning only his fourth cap, was starting a second-consecutive match, having also been asked to play in an advanced role behind the lone striker in Copenhagen.

“I’m delighted to play, the experience is something which you can’t get anywhere else,” he said. “International football is very different to the football you play at your club.”

Price is now set to start a new adventure, having this month signed a four-year contract to join Standard Liege after rejecting a new deal at Everton.

The move promises the opportunity to get more playing time and learn in a very different environment.

“I can’t wait to go over now,” he said. “Hopefully I can improve a lot more over there and in a different side of the game. It’s a lot more technical.

“I just can’t wait to get over and get started now.”

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