Sanchez rues the absence of Healy

Azerbaijan 0 Northern Ireland 0
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The Independent Football

Northern Ireland manager Lawrie Sanchez saw his team come up short in Baku last night in the absence of their leading scorer David Healy.

Healy was forced to sit out this World Cup qualifier through suspension after scoring seven goals in 11 games for the province, and was badly missed against arguably the weakest team in Group Six.

Carlos Alberto, the Brazilian legend who coaches Azerbaijan, was furious with what he perceived as Sanchez's lack of ambition.

"We know we have our limitations but I am sick of playing poor football teams like Northern Ireland and Wales," he said. "They did not create one chance from a spell of good football. It was all high balls."

Despite the criticism from his opposite number, Sanchez felt his side could have stolen a valuable away win. "We think it is two points missed," he said. "We created the majority of chances but we lacked a little bit of quality in the final third of the field."

Northern Ireland were the first to threaten when Southampton defender Chris Baird picked out James Quinn, but his header ended in the arms of the goalkeeper. Baird, who has just recovered from a knee injury, looked in some discomfort after falling awkwardly and was replaced by Keith Gillespie.

Northern Ireland suffered a scare in the 13th minute when Makhmud Gurbanov side-footed the ball wide from a good position after a cross from Ismayil Mamedov. Then Rashad Sadygov, who scored in the draw against Wales, tried his luck from distance, his shot whistling narrowly over Maik Taylor's bar.

Stuart Elliott was also solid on the other flank and Northern Ireland did look threatening going forward, while Colin Murdock, Aaron Hughes and Mark Williams played it tight in defence.

Sanchez decided to keep things as they were at the start of the second half, and Gillespie launched a long throw into the path of Quinn only for the striker to be penalised. Jeff Whitley impressed, too, winning a lot of possession in midfield.

However, Northern Ireland needed a goal from somewhere in the absence of Healy, but it was the home side who almost took the lead in the 67th minute when Samir Aliyev's delicate chip finished on the roof of the net.

Play switched down the other end and Quinn found the wrong side of the post. As the game became stretched, Northern Ireland stepped up the pace and Elliott skipped away only for Rafael Amirbeko to get in a timely challenge. Sanchez made a change in the 76th minute bringing on Preston striker Andy Smith. Damien Johnson then slipped a neat ball through to Elliott, but he had strayed marginally offside.

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