A much-improved Gibraltar outfit impressed this afternoon at the Victoria Stadium, as they played out an entertaining Nations League C Matchday 2 fixture against North Macedonia.
North Macedonia, fresh off of knocking European Champions Italy out of the World Cup, would ultimately overcome the spirited Gibraltar side 0-2 courtesy of goals either side of half-time from Bardi and Nikolov.
Gibraltar almost got off to the worst possible start as Trajkovski was played in behind and calmly slotted the ball past Dayle Coleing in the opening 2 minutes of play. Thankfully for Gibraltar the flag was raised and followed a VAR review, the goal was ruled out.
The fast attacking start by North Macedonia set the tone for what would be a hard-fought opening to the match as the visitors would go on and to strike the woodwork through Elmas, with his midfield partner Bardi looking influential in the middle of the park.
Despite North Macedonia’s early attacking threat, Gibraltar, who were sporting a new 4-4-1-1 formation, grew into the game and began to cause the visitors problems of their own.
In fact, Gibraltar almost opened the scoring in the 17th minute through Julian Valarino as Gibraltar’s high-press saw a loose ball played back to goal. Valarino intercepted the pass and rounded the keeper, however, the angle was too tight and his subsequent shot rolled millimetres wide of the post.
The openness of the match led to chances at both ends and Gibraltar needed to call on Coleing to produce big saves throughout the match, none more impressive than a 20th minute low save down to his right, that saw him tip a long range Bardi effort round the post and out for a corner.
Unfortunately for Gibraltar, the North Macedonian captain would not be denied his goal, as after taking the corner himself, the Levante man received the ball back and drove into the Gibraltar box before unleashing a low drive into the bottom corner to make it 0-1 after 21 minutes.
Gibraltar, despite going behind, were putting on an improved performance for the Victoria stadium faithful as they not only looked solid and organised in defence, but also continued to provide North Macedonia with something to think about in attack through their intense pressing and speed on the counter-attacks through Valarino and Ethan Britto in particular.
The impressive Gibraltar performance continued into the second half, with the home side touching the ball around the pitch calmly and looking to utilise the combination of Reece Styche’s physicality and the pace of their wingers running off of him.
As the second half-drew on, Gibraltar would continue growing into the game, and as well as their threat on the counter, the home side looked particularly dangerous through set-pieces, with Liam Walker’s delivery proving uncomfortable for the North Macedonian defence and goalkeeper.
Julio Ribas would go on to refresh his side throughout the second half, with two attack minded substitutes seeing the introductions of Jamie Coombes and Lee Casciaro, while there was a special moment for young Nicholas Pozo, as the 17-year-old midfielder was handed his debut in the closing minutes.
Unfortunately for Gibraltar however, before the full-time whistle they found themselves conceding again as a mix-up at the back allowed Nikolov in behind to poke home North Macedonia’s second goal of the game.
Despite the defeat, Gibraltar will be hoping to replicate today’s positive overall performance on Matchday 3 as they take on Bulgaria on Thursday 9 June at 20:45.