Feeney strike brings house down at home fortress

Northern Ireland 1 Slovenia 0
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The Independent Football

Worthington was keen to play down blossoming expectations of qualification afterwards but he was enthusiastic in his praise for a set of players who overcame their own deficiencies on the night to build on that excellent 3-2 win over Poland here last Saturday.

It was not a pretty game last night, nor were there many chances at either end and you could understand Worthington when he said: "It was a fight and we knew it'd be a fight. Slovenia are a good side, big and strong.

"It was like a heavyweight boxing match in the first half and we stood with them blow for blow. I told the players at half-time that as long as we were standing up to them we would win the game. They did that and got their just rewards.

"We needed more energy and we got it. I have nothing but praise for my players, their quality, their endeavour. The players had the bit between their teeth. They have taken all the information on board and put it into practice. And we kept a clean sheet tonight. We gave Slovenia nothing and we took it to them in the second half."

With 13 points on the board, Northern Ireland have played a game more than the others in the group. But they have kept themselves in contention until the trip to Poland in September and, having lost two of their first three matches, that is an achievement.

A 2-0 loss in Slovenia was one of those games and in not playing well, yet winning, the Irish got some revenge. The dreadful pitch did not help them, interrupting any midfield rhythm, and there were injuries to both full-backs. The goalkeeper Maik Taylor had to make a sharp save from Miso Brecko and shortly before Feeney's goal, the West Bromwich midfielder Robert Koren rattled the crossbar from 25 yards with Taylor beaten.

Then the unrelenting Sammy Clingan exchanged passes with Damien Johnson and swept a curling cross that found Feeney at the near post. He had scored the opener against Poland and now a deft flick to the ball fired it just inside the Slovenia far post.

Northern Ireland (4-4-2): Taylor (Birmingham); McAuley (Ipswich), Evans (Manchester United), Hughes (Fulham), McCartney (Sunderland); Johnson (Birmingham), Clingan (Norwich), McCann (Scunthorpe), Davis (Rangers); Healy (Sunderland), Feeney (Dundee United). Substitutes used: Baird (Fulham) for McAuley, 15; McGivern (Morecambe) for McCartney, h-t.

Slovenia (4-4-2): J Handanovic; Mavric, Cesar, Filekovic, Jokic; Kirm, Komac, Koren, Brecko; Dedic, Novakovic. Substitutes used: Ljubijankic for Dedic, 63; Pecnik for Kirm, 76; Mejac for Brecko, 84.

Referee: A Yefet (Israel).

Group Three

Northern Ireland results: Slovakia 2 Northern Ireland 1; Northern Ireland 0 Czech Republic 0; Slovenia 2 Northern Ireland 0; Northern Ireland 4 San Marino 0; San Marino 0 Northern Ireland 3; Northern Ireland 3 Poland 2, Northern Ireland 1 Slovenia 0.

Remaining fixtures: 5 Sep Poland v Northern Ireland. 9 Sep Northern Ireland v Slovakia. 14 Oct Czech Republic v Northern Ireland.

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