Football: Rowland offers a striking contrast

N Ireland 1 Rowland 31 Finland 0 Attendance: 10,002
Click to follow
ALMOST INEVITABLY, it took a midfielder to do it - no striker has yet scored in Lawrie McMenemy's five games in charge of Northern Ireland - but Keith Rowland's well struck drive earned a spirited victory to re- dress the balance of his country's European Championship campaign at Windsor Park yesterday afternoon.

It was the third 1-0 home win in those five matches, compensating for a 3-0 battering by Turkey in the opening group match and generating new optimism with another winnable home game against Moldova coming up next month.

Finland beat Moldova and have suggested they might be one of Europe's coming teams. They were vigorous and athletic in the Scandinavian manner but missed Ajax star Jari Litmanen, who was not fully fit and only came on for the last 15 minutes.

Forward power has been Northern Ireland's weakness for a few years and McMenemy has sought to copy Jack Charlton's policy with the Republic of Ireland of recruiting anyone with a taste for Guinness. Yet Birmingham's Dele Adebola and Ipswich's David Johnson are keeping their options open.

On Friday and in the match programme McMenemy had bemoaned his lack of striking options and reflected on some depressing statistics. Iain Dowie, his principal forward, had 11 goals in 50 appearances, while George O'Boyle from St Johnstone had one in 12.

After West Bromwich Albion's James Quinn tweaked a hamstring, he called up Glenn Ferguson, a 29-year-old civil servant, and Linfield servant, who put a few on a gate of just past 10,000 at his home ground.

Ferguson and O'Boyle were on the bench as the midfielder Michael Hughes started alongside Dowie, himself short of match practice since taking on his extra duties as the Queen's Park Rangers player/manager.

His club-mate Steve Morrow should have made more of a chance after 50 seconds. Dowie failed to control Kevin Horlock's free kick and Morrow's 12-yard shot was too close to the goalkeeper Antti Niemi.

Hughes, often deadly from distance, finished a good chance like a part- time striker in the 19th minute. Keith Gillespie crossed for Rowland to knock down enticingly but the Wimbledon man shot feebly.

Niemi's Rangers team-mate, Jonatan Johansson, should have put the visitors ahead midway through the first half in a rare break, though one that showed alarming fallibility at the heart of the defence. Joonas Kolkka's pass held up in the breeze and, instead of Alan Fettis coming to collect, Johansson was clear but lobbed carelessly wide.

Punishment was swift and severe, the home side taking the lead seven minutes later with a smart, low shot into the far corner by Rowland. In a neat interchange from Neil Lennon's free kick out on the left, Hughes sent him through for his first goal for his country in 15 games.

The lead was protected by a block from Fettis as Johansson sneaked in behind the defence again, Mixu Paatelainen being crowded out on the rebound.

There was a satisfied swagger to McMenemy before the second half. Dodgy hip or not, he would have danced a jig if Niemi had not kept out Lennon's fizzing 25-yarder following Hughes' corner.

It seemed the instructions were to feed Gillespie and the Newcastle winger made some surging runs down the right, before making way for a fresher Jon McCarthy of Birmingham.

Finland sent on Litmanen, but their last charge was repelled by sheer determination. They came no closer than Tommi Kautonen's floating cross, which Fettis turned away.