Northern Ireland strolled to the top of Group Three last night after Artur Boruc added yet another comical error to his gaffe-prone reputation. The Celtic goalkeeper (below) kicked nothing but air in a bid to clear Michal Zewlakow's bobbly back-pass and the ball rolled home to seal the hosts' victory.
It had looked as though the Irish would be thanking Evans after Manchester United's Jonny had recaptured the lead shortly after half-time when he stabbed home a corner for his first international goal. Whatever, the win took the hosts to the summit of Group Three and they stayed there after Slovenia and the Czech Republic battled to a 0-0 stalemate in Maribor.
The striker Warren Feeney summed up the mood. "It means a lot to score," he said. "I love playing for my country and I was buzzing, but all the lads were phenomenal. We are happy with the result and I think we deserved it."
Victory though was marred by unrest at the stadium and in the hours leading up to the match. Police made nine arrests after trouble at a Belfast pub and rival sets of fans had to be separated after fighting on the way to the ground. To compound matters further an assistant referee was injured when he appeared to be hit by an object thrown by one of the home supporters shortly after Poland's goal.
Conditions were not ideal as the game got under way with a blustery wind blowing. Feeney should have put Northern Ireland ahead after three minutes but dragged his effort wide of the post. However, they did take the lead in the 10th minute when Chris Brunt hoisted the ball to the back post, and Damien Johnson headed it into the area where Feeney made no mistake from close range.
Poland equalised midway through the half. The visitors sprung the offside trap with Ireneusz Jelen racing away and although goalkeeper Maik Taylor got a hand to his effort he was unable to prevent the ball going in. There were brief protests and play was then held up with the incident involving the assistant referee who needed treatment after sustaining an injury to his head.
Northern Ireland were celebrating two minutes into the second half when they regained the lead. Evans scored a first goal for his country, sweeping the ball home beyond Boruc following an inswinging corner from Grant McCann.
They extended their lead in the 61st minute thanks to a bizarre own goal from Michal Zewlakow. He looked on in disbelief as his back pass was completely missed by Boruc, the ball bobbling on the rutted pitch and bouncing over his foot. As time counted down Irish palms started to sweat and Marek Saganowski's injury-time header only made matters worse before the home fans could breathe a sigh of relief.
Bookings: Northern Ireland: Brunt. Poland: Guerreiro, Wasilewski, Krzynowek.
Referee: Martin Hansson (Sweden)
Man of the match: Evans
Match rating: 7/10Reuse content