Northern Ireland 2-1 South Korea: Paul Smyth Scores Debut Winner
A late strike from debutant Paul Smyth earned Northern Ireland a 2-1 victory over South Korea in their international friendly in Belfast.
It was an entertaining encounter at Windsor Park, and Chang-Hoon Kwon opened the scoring in the seventh minute before a Mae-Jae Kim own goal levelled up proceedings for Northern Ireland in the 20th minute.
The game looked to be heading for a draw with a number of substitutions made, including a debut for Smyth, who picked up a headed knockdown from Conor Washington before sweeping home past goalkeeper Seung-Gyu Kim in the 86th minute.
It ends a run of four winless games for Northern Ireland on the international stage, with their next friendly against Panama in May.
South Korea began well and took the lead in the seventh minute. A great floated ball over the top from Joo-Ho Park picked out Kwon on the right of the box before he swept home into the bottom corner past Trevor Carson.
Northern Ireland: Carson (7), J Evans (6), McAuley (7), Hughes (n/a), Lewis (7), C Evans (7), Saville (8), Norwood (6), Jones (7), Ward (7), Magennis (7).
Subs used: McLaughlin (7), Boyce (6), Washington (6), Cathcart (5), McNair (5), Smyth (6).
South Korea: Seung-Gyu Kim (6), Min-Jae Kim (5), Jin-Su Kim (5), Yong Lee (6), Jang (6), Ki (6), Park (7), Kwon (7), Jae-Sung Lee (7), Son (7), Shin-Wook Kim (6).
Subs used: Min-Woo Kim (6), Hwang (5), Jung (5), Chang-Min Lee (5), Yeom (5).
Man of the match: George Saville.
Both sides could have added the next goal within a minute of each other, but the efforts were disallowed. Jamie Ward picked up a loose save from Seung-Gyu Kim and hammered home, but the offside flag was correctly raised. Heung-Min Son then rolled the ball home at the other end, but the whistle had blown long before to see the goal ruled out.
Northern Ireland did equalise in the 20th minute, although they were given a helping hand. It was a well-worked free-kick, though, as Jordan Jones slipped the ball to Ward down the right of the box and his driving cross was turned home by Min-Jae Kim to see the sides level.
Trevor Carson and Jamal Lewis were handed their first Northern Ireland caps while Jordan Jones made his first international start. Both of South Korea’s Premier League players, Heung-min Son and Sung-yueng Ki, started the game.
The second half began at a pace, and both teams went close early on. Josh Magennis just scooped an effort over the crossbar at close range minutes after the restart, before Jae-Sung Lee’s strike from a Yong-Joon Lee cross just went past the upright.
South Korea kept seeing chances pass them by, and nearly caught Carson off-guard in the 58th minute as Park’s strike from the top of the area deflected off Kwon and forced the Northern Ireland goalkeeper into a leaping save. Six minutes later, and it was another deflection for the visitors, this time seeing Jae-Sung Lee’s effort ricochet off the back of Gareth McAuley before going past the upright.
But it was Northern Ireland who struck the winning goal in the 86th minute as Smyth marked his debut in style. A long ball over the top met the head of Washington who knocked the ball down into the path of QPR forward. He then took a few strides before hammering home past goalkeeper Seung-Gyu Kim to scenes of great celebration around Windsor Park.
Man of the match – George Saville
It was a solid performance in the middle of the park from the Millwall man and was often involved in the attacking play for Northern Ireland and looked comfortable in his role despite only a handful of caps. Saville was a solid presence and will surely be in the frame for the next round of call-ups.