Dowie penalty offers a way back

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The Independent Online
Latvia 0

Northern Ireland 1

Iain Dowie's second-half penalty kept alive Northern Ireland's hopes of qualifying for next summer's European Championship as Bryan Hamilton's team overcame Latvia in Riga.

Dowie was ghosting on to Keith Gillespie's low right-wing centre and appeared certain to score before Igor Troitsky brought him down.

Northern Ireland, seldom playing with any great flowing style, just about deserved the points after a sturdy performance lit up by Gillespie's fine showing on the right wing, but more typified by the gutsy displays of the captain, Alan McDonald, and midfielder Colin Hill.

The visitors were enjoying their best spell as Gillespie ran more than half the length of the pitch to pull back a cross which Dowie just missed, with Kevin Wilson then just beaten by a defender.

Latvia dominated possession in the second half and their best chance arrived after 58 minutes when the substitute, Rihards Butkus, slid the ball across into space where Alexander Yeliseyev was in plenty of space - but as he prepared to shoot Hill came in with a superb covering tackle.

Gillespie was substituted towards the end as the Irish got men behind the ball but they nearly increased their lead when Jimmy Quinn saw his point-blank header from Wilson's centre tipped over the bar.

LATVIA: Laizans; Troitsky, Astafyev, Zemlinsky, Shevlyakov (Skonta Riga), Sprogis (DAG Riga), Stepanov, Blagonadezhdin, Teplov, Babichev, Yeliseyev (Skonta Riga). Substitute: Butkus (Pardaugava Riga) for Blagonadezhdin, 30.

NORTHERN IRELAND: Fettis (Hull City); Patterson (Crystal Palace), Worthington (Leeds United), Hunter (Wrexham), McDonald (Queen's Park Rangers), Hill (Leicester City), Gillespie (Newcastle United), Wilson (Walsall), Dowie (Crystal Palace), Horlock (Swindon Town), Hughes (West Ham United). Substitutes: O'Boyle (Dunfermline Athletic) for Gillespie, 78; Quinn (Reading) for Dowie, 81.

Referee: F Lambeks (Denmark).