Football: Parker's own goal a late leveller

Northern Ireland 1 Canada 1
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NORTHERN IRELAND needed an injury-time own goal to salvage a draw against Canada in last night's friendly in Belfast.

It was a largely disappointing performance by Lawrie McMenemy's side, who came so close to an unexpected home defeat. The manager gave the Norwich reserve striker Adrian Coote his senior debut in the hope that he could solve the team's goal-scoring problems.

Northern Ireland had scored just nine times in their last 15 competitive matches, and McMenemy hoped that Coote could translate his Under-21 form of three goals in eight games to the senior side. The 20-year-old linked well with Iain Dowie, who gave his all as ever, but he failed to finish off the chances that came his way.

The result will do little to improve McMenemy's precarious position and increases the likelihood that his contract will not be renewed at the end of the Euro 2000 campaign, which is already effectively over after just five qualifiers.

Twice Coote had good chances when he managed to take the ball round West Ham's goalkeeper Craig Forrest, but on each occasion Brad Parker forced him away from the net.

Then Coote almost scored his first senior goal just before the interval when he burst clean through, only for Forrest to save at his feet.

Tommy Wright replaced Maik Taylor at half-time to win his first cap in 17 months, and just before the hour Glentoran's Rory Hamill replaced Jon McCarthy to make his debut and become the first Irish League player to represent the national side since the Ards goalkeeper, Paul Kee, in 1994. Then Linfield's Glenn Ferguson and Tottenham's Paul McVeigh were also brought on to make their debuts.

The unthinkable happened for Northern Ireland in the 67th minute. Wright appeared to bring down Jason Bent for a penalty, but the play went on and Fulham's Paul Peschisolido crossed for the Millwall midfielder Mark Bircham to head home into the roof of the net. He had scored within nine minutes of coming on for his first appearance for Canada.

Another substitute, Garret Kusch, almost added to a second to heighten Northern Ireland's embarrassment, when his goal-bound shot was deflected for a corner. But in stoppage time Steve Lomas swung over a corner for Keith Rowland to play the ball into the area, and Parker turned the ball into the net under pressure from McVeigh.

NORTHERN IRELAND: Taylor (Fulham), A Hughes (Newcastle), Horlock (Manchester City), Lomas (West Ham), Williams (Chesterfield), Hunter (Reading), McCarthy (Birmingham), Mulryne (Norwich), Dowie (Queen's Park Rangers), Coote (Norwich), Rowland (Queen's Park Rangers). Substitutes: Wright (Manchester City, gk) for Taylor, h-t; Hamill (Glentoran) for McCarthy, 59, McVeigh (Tottenham) for Dowie, 74; Ferguson (Linfield) for Coote, 74; Sonner (Sheffield Wednesday) for Mulryne, 82.

CANADA: Forrest (West Ham); Clarke (St Patrick's Athletic), Parker (Feyenoord), Watson (Oxford Utd), De Vos (Dundee Utd), Xausa (Dordrecht), Stalteri (Werder Bremen), Dasovic (St Johnstone), Peschisolido (Fulham), Bent (Colorado Rapids), Brennan (Bristol City). Substitutes: Bircham (Millwall) for Xausa, 58; Kusch (Mons) for Stalteri, 65.

Referee: M McCurry (Scotland).