Sanchez run ends as blunders boost Poland's morale

Northern Ireland 0 - Poland 3
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The Independent Football

Only time will tell as to how good or poor this Poland side is. A lot will be revealed when they host Wednesday's match against England. It might just be that Northern Ireland made them look good for, it seems, Lawrie Sanchez's side cannot get much worse. Nor do they have the manpower to get much better.

This opening 2006 World Cup qualifier was the first competitive match and a first defeat in seven games for Sanchez, who took charge in February, after a run of relatively comfortable friendlies. Poland had lost their last friendly match 5-1 at home to Denmark and looked distinctly average again, but confidence is very high after winning this so easily. England showed in Austria at the weekend, however, that, like Northern Ireland, they can make average teams look good.

The Liverpool and Poland goalkeeper, Jerzy Dudek, said: "I am not so stupid to say that we will beat England now as it will be a very different game. But to win away as we have obviously gives us a lot of confidence ahead of Wednesday's match."

Sanchez takes his team to Cardiff for their second Group Six match on the same night, when they will have to cut out the basic errors that gifted this victory to the Poles.

At least the Northern Ireland manager and his players were man enough to admit their faults as Birmingham City midfielder Damien Johnson, one of only five Premiership players to feature for the home side, conceded that the first goal was all down to him.

Maciej Zurawski gets the credit for curling the ball directly into the net from a corner on the left just four minutes into the match, but Johnson could easily have cleared at the near post, where he stood in front of goalkeeper and Birmingham team-mate Maik Taylor.

"It was my fault, I ducked and it was my error," Johnson said. "Maik was left unsighted and, overall, we lost that match because of three silly mistakes. I'm gutted, but we can't dwell on it because we have to lift ourselves for the Wales game."

The second goal, eight minutes before half-time, was just as sloppy, from a Northern Ireland point of view, as Aaron Hughes and Stephen Craigan delayed in dealing with a long clearance from Dudek and the Legia Warsaw striker Piotr Wlodarczyk stole in between them to score.

Sanchez admitted that his team were playing for pride in the second half, but the match was all over as a contest 12 minutes after the restart when more poor defending gifted Jacek Krzynowek the chance to shoot past Taylor for Poland's third goal from just outside the penalty area. Wlodarczyk also played a part in the build-up, but was sent off 10 minutes from time for reacting angrily to some shirt pulling by the Milton Keynes Dons defender Mark Williams, who had already been booked. The Poland coach, Pawel Janas, said: "It was a foolish reaction by one of our most important players. He will now miss the game against England so it was a bad mistake to make under pressure."

Sanchez still believes England will stroll through the group with Poland ready to battle Wales for the second automatic qualifying spot. Janas privately agrees, but will be encouraged by this result and the surprising failure of England and Wales to win their opening games away from home. "This was a good chance for us to play against a British style of football which we will have to face a lot to qualify for the World Cup. People might expect us to be playing for second place with Wales, but that is not the limit of our ambition."

Northern Ireland (4-4-2): Taylor (Birmingham City); A Hughes (Newcastle United), Craigan (Motherwell), Williams (MK Dons), Capaldi (Plymouth); Elliott (Hull City), Johnson (Birmingham City), Whitley (Sunderland), M Hughes (Crystal Palace); Quinn (Willem II), Healy (Preston). Substitutes: Jones (Crewe) for M Hughes, 53; McVeigh (Norwich City) for Elliott, 61; Smith (Preston) for Quinn, 72.

Poland (4-1-4-1): Dudek; Rzasa, Zewlakow, Glowacki, Bak; Zienczuk; Krzynowek, Zurawski (Kryszalowicz, 84), Mila (Radomski, 75); Lewandowski; Wlodarczyk. Substitutes: Gorawski for Krzynowek, 67; Radomski for Mila, 75; Kryszalowicz for Zurawski, 84.

Referee: J Wegereef (Netherlands).

Booked: Northern Ireland: Williams.

Sent off: Poland: Wlodarczyk, 79.

Man of the match: Krzynowek.