Lawrie Sanchez marked his second game in charge of Northern Ireland by steering the team to a rare victory yesterday. A superb goal from David Healy was enough to see them home in this friendly in Tallinn. It was Northern Ireland's first win in 16 matches stretching back more than two years and five months.
Sanchez decided to go with fringe players against a team 58 places above them in the world rankings. But his side came up trumps with a gritty display full of enterprising football.
The Birmingham City goalkeeper, Maik Taylor, captained the Northern Ireland team for the first time. He took the armband from Newcastle United's Aaron Hughes - one of several senior players to stay at home.
Sanchez handed a first cap to Tony Capaldi of Plymouth Argyle, while the defender Stephen Craigan and midfielder Danny Sonner were recalled to the team. Despite Northern Ireland's recent poor run, about 100 supporters made the trip to the Baltic port.
Healy was quickly into the action. He tried his luck from 25 yards in the second minute, only to see his shot go narrowly wide. Then Steve Jones latched on to a poor Estonia clearance but was off target with his effort. Northern Ireland's bright start continued when Mark Williams headed over following a free-kick from Phil Mulryne and Jeff Whitley cleared the bar with a speculative shot. Then in the 16th minute Estonia's goalkeeper, Martin Kaalma, saved twice in quick succession from Whitley and Capaldi. Estonia broke away after 25 minutes but Williams timed his tackle to perfection to dispossess Indrek Zelinski. Three minutes later Sonner found space 25 yards out but failed to test Kaalma, who was making a rare start as Sunderland's Mart Poom stayed at home ahead of Sunday's FA Cup semi-final with Millwall.
Northern Ireland were playing with plenty of spirit and Norwich City's Mulryne floated a free-kick narrowly over the bar in the 40th minute. Then Craigan saw a goalbound header turned away at the back post by Raio Piiroja.
The game's deciding moment came two minutes into first-half stoppage time when Healy netted a wonderful goal. He took a pass from Jones in his stride before curling a shot beyond Kaalma from 20 yards.
The Preston North End striker's superb finish took his tally to 10 for the province - and it was no more than Northern Ireland deserved for the work they had put in. The goal also gave Northern Ireland a big lift going into the second half and it was no shock that Sanchez kept things as they were at the start of the second period.
Mulryne almost added a second in the 54th minute, his free-kick finding the side-netting, before the Sunderland midfielder Whitley - ruled out of Sunday's FA Cup semi-final because of suspension - tested Kaalma with a powerful 63rd-minute shot which the goalkeeper did well to parry. Healy latched on to the rebound and fired over the top from close range - but the assistant referee had already flagged for an infringement. Whitley was playing with a lot of confidence and rattled a shot wide in the 66th minute after a cross from Capaldi had only been half-cleared.
Sanchez then made his first change, bringing on Cheltenham Town's Grant McCann for the tiring Jones. Sanchez brought on another player from Third Division Cheltenham in the 78th minute when Michael Duff joined McCann after replacing Sonner.
Estonia stepped up the pace in the closing stages and Maksim Smirnov shot wide when well placed. But Northern Ireland played out time to send their fans wild with delight.
Estonia: Kaalma, Jaager, Stepanov, Piiroja, Klavan, Reim, Smirnov, Kristal, Zelinski, Meelis Rooba, Kink. Subs: Kaas, Rahn, Purje, Terehhov, Reinumae, Saviauk, Lindpere, Dmitrijev, Teever.
Northern Ireland: Taylor, Baird, Williams, Craigan, Capaldi, Jones, Whitley, Sonner, Mulryne, Healy, Smith. Subs: Fettis, McCann, Duff, Toner, Kirk.
Referee: Petteri Kari (Finland).Reuse content