Austria dazzle in St Mary's EURO victory


St Mary’s once again played host to UEFA Women's EURO Group A action as Northern Ireland and Austria battled it out for their first three points of the tournament.

After a disappointing result against two-time winners Norway at St Mary's on Thursday, Kenny Shiels made four changes to his side, hoping to secure their first points of the tournament in front of an electric St Mary's crowd. 

Austria appeared in control of the match from the offset, with a tap in from Katharina Shiechtl presenting them with the advantage after 19 minutes of play at St Mary’s.

Despite a valiant second-half display from the women in white, Katharina Naschenweng monopolised on a defensive error to double the advantage and secure all three points for her side.

Crowds soared into St Mary’s on a glorious day in SO14, with fans packing out the stands in the blistering heat. 

Northern Ireland got the game underway, though Austria asserted their dominance in the game early on, with Northern Ireland forced into a highly defensive performance for much of the first half. 
With the pressure mounting on goal, a calm and composed moment from goalkeeper Jackie Burns as she collected Austria's opening free-kick, allowed Northern Ireland to settle in and find their rhythm.

Just moments later, though, Barbara Dunst fired in a delightful cross from the left-wing, finding the head of Julia Hickelsberger-Fuller at the back post, but the Austrian midfielder failed to get her shot on target.

While Shiels’ side played a defensively tight game, a moment of promise came as Lauren Wade made a lovely break down the right but the moment was short-lived as Austria swiftly regained control. 

With the pressure from Austria relentless, it took just 19 minutes for them to take the lead at St Mary's. A rash challenge from Rangers’ Demi Vance on Hickelsberger-Fuller saw them awarded a dangerous free-kick just on the edge of the area.

Sarah Puntigam’s low, bouncing shot took a deflection on its way towards goal, with Katharina Schiechtl able to tap the ball in to give Austria the advantage for the first time in this year’s tournament.

Austria remained in control for much of the opening half, with the attacking pressure from the left causing Northern Ireland a whole host of defensive problems.

With less than four minutes of the first half remaining, a spectacular fingertip save from Burns ensured the deficit was not doubled heading into the break, with Barbara Dunst’s chip poked over the crossbar.With the break closing in, the momentum continued to shift, with a long-range free-kick resulting in Northern Ireland’s first corner of the game. As one came, another followed, with Austria’s defensive abilities called into question for the first time in the tie.

There was little to worry about for Irene Fuhrmann’s side, though, who managed to successfully deter the threat after three consecutive set pieces.

Undoubtedly their most threatening spell of the match so far, Northern Ireland appeared buoyed by the energised crowd’s reaction at every opportunity to push forward, looking to bring it into the second half.

Emerging from the break, while remaining defensive, Northern Ireland appeared much more courageous on the attack with Vance and Marrisa Callaghan combining on the left flank to produce a couple of enticing opportunities.

Austria remained defiant, seamlessly shutting down the attack while also launching a number of their own.

And while the two sides were competing on the pitch, it was a battle between the visiting fans as supporters in green and red alike rallied to support their teams in the second Group A matchday in SO14.

The first real threat of the second half came just after the hour mark, with Austria once again proving the more competitive of the two sides. Barbara Dunst fired in a delectable half-volley and while Burns failed to get a hold of it, a fingertip reaction tipped the ball over the crossbar, bouncing off the top of the netting for an Austria corner.

In a half much more competitive than the first, Rachel Furness and Callaghan engaged in some tantalising build-up play before Kirsty McGuiness delivered a promising cross into the area, sending the ball behind for a corner.

While Northern Ireland searched for an equaliser, Austria remained calm and steady in their play, seizing on opportunities as and when they presented themselves. A defiant piece of defending from Rebecca Holloway saw Austria's search for a second goal halted, clearing from the front post to send the ball behind for a corner.

While Northern Ireland did their very best to prevent Austria from doubling their lead, Katharina Naschenweng found the back of the net as St Mary's erupted with noise.

Substitute Abbie Magee was caught sleeping in front of goal, as Naschenweng made no mistake in firing the ball into the left-hand corner of the net, cementing Austria's first points of the competition.

With the points wrapped up, an onslaught of attacks followed from Austria who continued to search for more in front of a cheering St Mary's, but Northern Ireland's defence held strong to ensure the defecit remained at two.

St Mary’s will host its third and final game of the tournament on Friday, as Northern Ireland take on Sarina Wiegman’s Lionesses.