Skela strike sinks Northern Ireland

Ervin Skela's superb goal in the first half handed Albania a 1-0 win over Northern Ireland in their international friendly on Wednesday night.

Last Updated: 03/03/10 at 22:16 Post Comment

Taylor: Busy night's work

Taylor: Busy night's work

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Motherwell defender Stephen Craigan should have been celebrating his first goals for Northern Ireland in his 46th international appearance.

Instead his luck was out in this friendly as he saw both efforts come back off the woodwork in the second half as his side chased the game against Albania.

A makeshift Northern Ireland side improved in this period but were unable to get the equaliser after Skela's superb goal for the hosts in the 25th minute.

It means there was no end to a dreadful away record which has seen them record only three victories in 22 matches.

Northern Ireland were given a chasing in the first half and were lucky to be only a goal down.

The pitch at the Qemal Stafa Stadium was muddy and rutted after heavy recent rain - hardly conducive to good football.

Birmingham goalkeeper Maik Taylor got a taste of what was to come when was called into action after two minutes. He dealt comfortably with a shot from Erjon Bogdani.

Albania were playing with confidence and Ansi Agolli saw his effort clear the bar in the 12th minute.

Five minutes later Northern Ireland again found themselves on the back foot, only for Klodian Duro to put too much height on his shot.

This was a difficult spell for the visitors and Taylor showed good reflexes to turn over a superb free-kick from Skela in the 21st minute.

A minute later Northern Ireland responded with a quick counter attack and Little got on the end of a Grant McCann cross but no-one reacted to his cushioned header.

Albania opened the scoring in the 25th minute when Skela sent a magnificent free-kick past Taylor after McCartney had been hauled back for a challenge on Bogdani.

A number of Northern Ireland players looked frustrated, especially Kyle Lafferty, who was booked for dissent.

The Rangers striker is no stranger to controversy either and went into the match on the back of criticism for his behaviour in the Old Firm game on Sunday.

He was involved in an incident that saw Scott Brown red-carded and many pundits thought he should have been punished as well.

O'Connor also picked up a yellow card and the 80 Northern Ireland supporters who made the trip were having little to cheer about.

Albania were well in control and Agolli dragged a shot wide in the 42nd minute with the defence all at sea.

Worthington made two changes at the break, bringing on Dean Shiels and Corry Evans for Niall McGinn and O'Connor.

Evans was drafted into the squad after his brother Jonny pulled out and returned to Manchester United with a knee problem.

Albania were looking comfortable and Agolli cleared the bar with his effort from the edge of the area.

However Northern Ireland almost drew level in the 61st minute when Grant McCann floated in a corner.

Craigan got clear of his marker and powered in a header only to see it come back off the bar.

Lafferty came off a minute later and was replaced by Coleraine's Rory Patterson, making his debut.

Taylor did well to stop a header from substitute Lorik Cana before coming off in the 71st minute. Jonny Tuffey was given a run-out and Craigan took the armband from Taylor.

Craigan was again cursing his luck in the 74th minute when his shot struck the post.

Patterson latched on to the rebound but saw it blocked by goalkeeper Isli Hidi and Albania went on to seal the victory.

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