Royals forward George Pușcaș added to his tally of goals at international level by finding the net against Northern Ireland on Friday evening – but his country could only draw against Northern Ireland as the visitors found an unlikely equaliser in the late stages.
Puski’s seventh goal at senior level for Romania had them in the ascendency in Bucharest; midway through the first period, he was on hand to stab in as former Spurs defender Vlad Chiriches squared from the right.
Northern Ireland’s task to get back into the game became even more of an uphill struggle when Hull City striker Josh Magennis was given his marching orders before the break. Twice the referee dipped into his pocket for similar instances of leading with an elbow into an aerial challenge, leaving the visitors with ten men.
Pușcaș and his compatriots had opportunities to extend the lead, but Burnley stopper Bailey Peacock-Farrell was their foil for the entirety of the second half.
Three presentable chances for Pușcaș were well met, and needed some acrobatics from the glovesman. A bullet header needed palming away down low, then a first-time drive from our forward after a backheel from Denis Alibec was well fielded. And when Alexandru Maxim led a fast breakaway, Pușcaș was the one to strike for the overloading Romanians – somehow the goalkeeper again flung a desperate glove at it.
Missed opportunities were made to pay. Ian Barraclough, in his first game as Northern Ireland boss, threw on Kyle Lafferty – the forward won an aerial dual to cushion a header into the path of the unchecked Gavin Whyte, who blindsided the defence to nod past Ciprian Tatarusanu from close range.
Romania pushed to re-establish a late lead; Alibec almost offered an instant reply to Whyte’s strike but Peacock-Farrell, again, showed remarkable reactions to get a touch onto the rasping drive… touching it onto the crossbar.
So just one point from the opening encounter for Pușcaș and his countrymen in Group B1; they visit Austria on Monday, after their 2-1 win in Norway. Tom McIntyre is our other man in international action; Scotland U21 are hosted by Lithuania on Tuesday evening.