Christian Pulisic seals United States’ victory over Northern Ireland

Christian Pulisic in action against Northern Ireland

It was a familiar feeling for Northern Ireland as a positive performance went unrewarded in a 2-1 friendly defeat to the United States at Windsor Park.

Gio Reyna, the 18-year-old born in the north east of England when his father Claudio was playing for Sunderland, opened the scoring with a deflected strike before Chelsea’s Christian Pulisic doubled their advantage before the hour with a disputed penalty.

A superb strike from Niall McGinn gave Northern Ireland late hope but, as Wednesday’s vital World Cup qualifier against Bulgaria looms, their winless run under Ian Baraclough continued in frustrating fashion.

Baraclough had paid lip service to the importance of this match but his team-sheet told a different story as he made 10 changes from Thursday’s 2-0 World Cup qualifying defeat to Italy.

Only Corry Evans, replaced at half-time in Parma, retained his place, while Steven Davis was not in the squad as he was made to wait for his record-breaking 126th cap.

In contrast the Americans fielded another strong side, with Pulisic captaining an 11 that included Barcelona full-back Sergino Dest and Manchester City goalkeeper Zack Steffen.

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Gregg Berhalter boasts a side rich in potential with youngsters finding their way across the major European leagues, and it was the 18-year-old Yunus Musah who caught the eye early on.

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The Valencia midfielder, who spent seven years in Arsenal’s academy and had been eligible to play for England, repeatedly drove at the Northern Ireland defence and looked a constant menace.

Northern Ireland were pressing high and forcing mistakes, but they could not capitalise and fell behind against the run of play to Reyna’s strike with half an hour gone.

There was a huge element of fortune to the goal, though, as the Borussia Dortmund forward’s shot took a significant deflection off Ciaron Brown to leave Conor Hazard wrong-footed.

Debutant Dion Charles was one of four substitutes brought on by Baraclough at half-time, but by the time he and his colleagues got themselves ready, Northern Ireland were 2-0 down.

Again the luck was all on the American side as Pulisic went down under a challenge from Ballard. Replays showed the on-loan Blackpool defender got a touch on the ball first, but Pulisic dusted himself off to casually fire his spot-kick past Hazard.

Substitute McGinn produced the moment of the night with his 88th-minute strike, but it came too late to change the result.

Defeat means that Baraclough’s only success in his 10 games in charge remains the penalty shoot-out win over Bosnia and Herzegovina back in October.

There could be no better time to change that than Wednesday night.

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