Charles: A Great Night

Dion Charles gave Northern Ireland the perfect start to their Euro 2024 qualifying campaign with his first goals for his country.

The Wanderers’ striker scored both of the goals as Northern Ireland gave Michael O’Neill a winning return as manager with a 2-0 victory over San Marino.

Whites’ on-loan full-back Conor Bradley also produced an impressive 90-minute appearance, while team-mate Eoin Toal was an unused substitute following his first call-up to the senior squad.

However, the star of the show was Charles, who produced two fine finishes to give Northern Ireland the perfect start to their Group H campaign in Serravalle.

Charles continued his impressive campaign when he steered home a Conor Washington cross on the volley to open his international account.

The 27-year-old then headed in a Jamal Lewis cross after the break to take his tally for club and country for the season to 20 goals.

“I’m delighted,” said Charles, who was named Northern Ireland's man-of-the-match. “They were two brilliant balls in from Wash and Jamal and it’s my job to get on the end of them.

“I thought I should have had a penalty at the end and could have topped it off with a hat-trick but, all in all, it’s a great night for me.

“The gaffer showed a lot of faith in me and I have repaid him.”

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O’Neill, trying to repeat the 2016 Euros qualification from his first spell in charge of Northern Ireland, was full of praise for Charles after handing him a start and a 14th cap.

“It’s always nice for an international striker to score early in the game, and that’s exactly what he did,” O’Neill said.

“He is in great form at club level and it’s great to see him carry that into the international game. It was a big night for him, and I’m delighted with his performance.”

Northern Ireland next face Finland in Windsor Park on Sunday night before Charles, Bradley and Toal return to Wanderers to join preparations for the Papa Johns Trophy final on 2 April.

Meanwhile, Wanderers’ goalkeeper James Trafford could feature for England’s U21s against France in a friendly at Leicester City on Tuesday night.

And on-loan defender Luke Mbete is with the England U20 squad who play two further friendlies against the USA and France in Marbella as part of their preparations for the U20 World Cup Finals this summer.

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