Dowie's dismissal caps poor display

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Northern Ireland 0 Norway 2

Northern Ireland made a losing start to their 1998 World Cup build-up campaign at Windsor Park last night as Bryan Hamilton's side were exposed by an industrious, fluent Norway. Their sorry evening was further soured by Iain Dowie's late dismissal after a clash with a Norwegian defender.

Northern Ireland started brightly, eager to improve on a laudable 5-3 defeat of Austria in the European Championship last November. Keith Gillespie, unable to break into the Newcastle side, showed first, his stirring run down the right only thwarted a blatant obstruction.

Norway gradually settled, though, and Stale Solsbakken went close to opening the score after 10 minutes. The Lillestrom midfielder's swift break brought a fine save from Alan Fettis, but when the goalkeeper failed to hold on to the ball, Solsbakken followed up, only for Colin Hill to clear off the line.

Then Nigel Worthington had to intervene, heading off the line from Stig Inge Bjornebye's in-swinging corner. Norway continued to pose a threat and Jan Age Fjortoft should have scored in the 27th minute. Sent clear by Petter Rudi, Fjortoft composed himself, drilled the ball past Fettis only for the ball to come back off a post.

Michael O'Neill did make one break as half-time approached but Fjortoft raced back to clear the danger.

Bjornebye pumped a series of crosses into the Irish area: one particularly tantalising centre left Fettis relieved to get his fist to the ball as it threatened to curl just into his top right-hand corner.

Norway took a deserved lead with the second half six minutes old, although it was a rather fortuitous strike by Solskjaer, whose shot took a deflection off Alan McDonald before dropping over the head of Fettis. They went agonisingly close to a second goal when Bjornebye whipped in a brisk free-kick, but Fettis did well to beat it out.

Gerard McMahon, a 61st-minute substitute for O'Neill, was denied an equaliser after only five minutes on the pitch. Gillespie picked out Dowie from the right and when the West Ham striker knocked the ball down, McMahon rifled it high into the roof of the net. However, the "goal" was ruled it out for a goalmouth infringement.

Their frustration was compounded when, in the 78th minute, Norway stretched their lead as Egil Ostenstad struck from only a few yards.

McMahon headed just wide before Northern Ireland suffered another setback. Dowie was dismissed five minutes from time after a clash with Ronny Johnsen.

NORTHERN IRELAND: Fettis (Nottingham Forest); Lomas (Manchester City), Worthington (Leeds), Hill (Leicester), McDonald (Queen's Park Rangers), Lennon (Leicester), Gillespie (Newcastle), O'Neill (Hibernian), Dowie (West Ham), Magilton (Southampton), Hughes (West Ham). Substitutes: Rowland (West Ham) for Worthington, 60; Patterson (Manchester United) for Magilton, h/t; McMahon (Tottenham), O'Neill, 61.

NORWAY: Grodas (Lillestrom); Haland (Nottingham Forest), R Johnsen (Besiktas), Berg (Blackburn), Bjornebye (Liverpool), Rudi (Molde), Solbakken (Lillestrom), Leonhardsen (Wimbledon), Fjortoft (Middlesbrough), Rekdal (Lierse), Solskjaer (Molde). Substitutes: Jakobsen (Rosenborg Trondheim), for Leonhardsen, 20; Thorstvedt (Tottenham) for Grodas, h/t; Ostenstad (Viking Stavanger).

Referee: J Ashman (Wales).