Northern Ireland’s brilliant surprise of a campaign just goes on and on.
On an artificial pitch in Torshavn, Michael O’Neill’s coherent and committed team proved themselves a real presence once again and a victory over Hungary in Belfast on Monday night would mean this team, drawn from pot five, qualifies for next summer’s finals in France. Not since 1986 have Northern Ireland achieved that.
Two goals – two headers – from West Bromwich Albion defender Gareth McAuley– sent the Irish on their way. McAuley scored on 12 and 71 minutes. His is a happy habit – five goals in his last 11 internationals – though two in one game is rare.
In between, Joan Simun Edmundsson – once of Newcastle United and Gateshead – equalised, but was later sent off. Edmundsson’s red card came in the 65th minute and, within 10 minutes, McAuley had his second while Kyle Lafferty had gleefully belted in a third.
It meant O’Neill’s players moved to the top of Group F with three games left. They are on the brink.
Inspired by McAuley and captain Steven Davis, the Irish displayed resilience last night. The Faroes are hardly superpowers but they had beaten Greece twice and lost narrowly to Romania in their last three games.
The Faroes had confidence and O’Neill had warned of the fast start the home side had made against Greece in Torshavn in June.
It was notable, therefore, just how well Northern Ireland began. From kick-off, it was a green shirt first to the ball. Irish wingers Niall McGinn, on the right, and Stuart Dallas, on the left, were prominent.
A foul on McGinn led to McAuley’s opener. Oliver Norwood, now with Reading, took the resulting free-kick and his inswinging centre was met on the run 12 yards out by McAuley’s forehead. The ball flew into the far corner.
Only 12 minutes had gone but Irish assurance was evident. It stayed that way for the next 20 minutes. This was a composed performance.
It took 32 minutes for the Faroes to win a corner, yet they were soon level.
The equaliser stemmed from an error by Dallas. Facing his own goal while defending a long throw, Dallas was robbed by Sonni Nattestad. The big defender got to the byline and, with the Irish defence scrambling, sent in a low cross that Edmundsson stabbed past Michael McGovern from five yards.
The disappointment for the Irish was that this was the Faroes’ first chance.
Shortly before half-time Lafferty had his first chance of the night, but the Norwich striker got too much on McGinn’s cross.
The same pair combined near the hour, Lafferty’s volley being charged down.
But Edmundsson’s dismissal – a second yellow card for a second lunge – tipped the balance. McAuley’s determination made him first to Brunt’s free-kick, then Lafferty sneaked away from Nattestad to rattle in the third.
“The place will be bouncing on Monday,” McAuley said of Windsor Park. It will.
Northern Ireland (4-1-4-1): McGovern; McLaughlin (Magennis, 69), McAuley, J Evans, Brunt (Ferguson, 83); Baird; McGinn, Davis, Norwood, Dallas; Lafferty (McNair, 78).Reuse content