Northern Ireland's impressive start to their Euro 2012 qualifying campaign came to a shuddering halt against traditional whipping boys, the Faroe Islands yesterday. After the satisfaction of drawing with former world champions Italy on Friday, Ireland they had to settle for a point against much lesser opposition in Toftir.
That came thanks to an equaliser from Kyle Lafferty after Christian Holst had given the Faroes a shock lead. The Rangers striker returned to the Northern Ireland starting line-up, having been rewarded for his impressive display as a substitute in the goalless draw with Italy. He replaced David Healy, who was relegated to the bench, as manager Nigel Worthington finally lost patience with a striker who has failed to score for Northern Ireland for two years.
Worthington made one other change to his side, with Celtic winger Niall McGinn replacing Grant McCann. Northern Ireland were looking to build on their good start to the qualifying campaign against a team that had lost all their four matches before yesterday.
The Faroes seemed to make their intentions clear in the first minute when striker Joan Edmundsson, who is on Newcastle's books, was spoken to by referee Cyril Zimmermann after a stiff challenge on Jonny Evans.
Three minutes later, Northern Ireland carved out the first chance of the match following a swift break. Lafferty got on the end of a cross from Gareth McAuley, only to send a soft header into the arms of goalkeeper Jakup Mikkelsen. They kept up the pace and Lafferty peeled away from his marker in the ninth minute but Mikkelsen was equal to his effort. Lafferty was finding plenty of space and sent a shot into the goalkeeper's body in the 16th minute with Warren Feeney playing a part in the move.
It was frustrating opening half for Northern Ireland. Despite having the majority of possession they were struggling to make the breakthrough. They should have taken the lead in the 50th minute when Steven Davis threaded the ball through the middle. McGinn was first to react but only succeeded in finding the side netting when it seemed he should have hit the target at least.
Worthington then made his first change, bringing on Healy for Feeney, who had been ineffective. Healy was quickly into the action and Mikkelsen had to make a smart save from him in the 53rd minute. But the Faroes took the lead in the 60th minute when Holst took advantage of some slack defensive work to steer a shot beyond Maik Taylor and into the net.
Northern Ireland hit back in search of the equaliser and Chris Baird headed wide three minutes later from a corner. Northern Ireland's pressure paid off in the 76th minute when Lafferty equalised. He linked up well with Chris Brunt before steering his effort home via the post for his eighth goal in 28 international appearances.
Faroe Islands (4-4-2): Mikkelsen; Naes, Jacobsen, Davidsen, Gregersen; Udsen, Benjaminsen, Samuelsen, Holst; Edmundsson, Elttor. Substitutes used Petersen for Udsen, 68; A Hansen for Samuelsen, 78; J Hansen for Holst, 85.
Northern Ireland (4-4-2): Taylor (Birmingham City); McAuley (Ipswich Town), J Evans (Manchester United), Craigan (Motherwell), Hughes (Fulham); Baird (Fulham), Davis (Glasgow Rangers), McGinn (Celtic), Brunt (West Bromwich Albion); Feeney (Oldham Athletic), Lafferty (Rangers). Substitutes used Healy (Sunderland) for Feeney, 51; C Evans (Manchester United) for McGinn, 84.
Referee C Zimmermann (Switzerland).