Goals from Georgia Evans, Jess Fishlock and Natasha Harding ensured an impressive victory for Wales against Northern Ireland on Wednesday afternoon in the first of two friendly fixtures, but there was more to celebrate than just the result on what was an emotional and memorable day for Fishlock in particular.
Wales 3-1 Northern Ireland
Vauxhall International Friendly
- Centre for Sporting Excellence, Ystrad Mynach
- Wednesday, 5 April 2017
Presentations were made before the match kicked-off to mark international appearance milestones for Angharad James (50 caps) and Jess Fishlock (100 caps) in the bright sunshine at the Centre of Sporting Excellence in Ystrad Mynach.
There was a resounding appreciation for Fishlock from the crowd as she became the first Wales player ever to play a century of games for her country. To mark the occasion, Sophie Ingle handed the captains armband back to her predecessor as Fishlock led the team once again.
And Wales responded to the occasion from the start with Kayleigh Green causing a number of problems for the Irish defence, and the positivity from Jayne Ludlow's side was rewarded after just 9 minutes when Georgia Evans capitalised on a loose ball in the Northern Ireland area to volley past goalkeeper Emma Higgins, much to the delight of an enthusiastic crowd.
The lead was almost doubled on 13 minutes, but Green's looping effort went narrowly over the bar.
It was Jess Fishlock's day, and the talismanic star of the side was instrumental in her teams creative play, despite the close attentions of Ireland's Laura Rafferty.
Fishlock was winning the midfield battle, and Ireland were restricted from creating any chances until the 16 minute mark, but Lafferty was denied by Laura O'Sullivan in the Wales goal.
O'Sulivan was again called into action a few minutes later to save from Rachel Furness when she tried her luck from a tight angle, but chances remained few and far between for Alfie Wylie's side.
Wales quickly settled back into the match, and Higgins again saved to deny Wales increasing their lead, this time from Rachel Rowe after 26 minutes.
However, Ireland levelled minutes later when English referee Rebecca Welch adjudged that the impressive Green had handled in the area from an Irish corner. Furness stepped-up and drilled the ball past O'Sullivan.
The goal sparked Wales back into their high-tempo attacking play, and the moment the crowd had been waiting for arrived on 39 minutes when Fishlock drilled a superb strike into the top corner the net to restore Wales' lead before half-time.
Nadia Lawrence replaced Gemma Evans at half-time and made an immediate impact as within two minutes of the restart she crossed for Natasha Harding to finish past Higgins with a neat flick at the near post.
It was a great start to the second half for Wales, but Northern Ireland responded well to the disappointment of conceding a third goal and enjoyed a prolonged period of possession, culminating in defender Ashley Hutton heading wide from a corner after 54 minutes.
Ten minutes later, Furness went in search of her second goal of the game, but fired wide.
The introduction of Charlie Estcourt helped Wales regain control of the game in midfield, while Ingle effectively marshalled her defence to prevent Northern Ireland creating any further real chances.
Lawrence, Fishlock and Harding all went close to adding a fourth goal for Wales, but failed to find the target with their respective efforts before referee Welch brought the match to a close.
It was an impressive performance for Wales and a deserved result as Ludlow prepares her side for the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup qualifiers that begin later this year.