Northern Irish prove good neighbours

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reports from Windsor Park, Belfast

Northern Ireland 5 Austria 3

Northern Ireland produced their best home performance in years to end Austria's hopes of reaching Euro '96. With only pride to play for in Group Six, they kept the qualification door open to their Republic neighbours with a superb victory.

The Irish soon had Austria in trouble. Keith Gillespie, a constant menace, skied a shot over moments after his teasing cross had found Phil Gray at the far post. The striker, however, failed to make a telling contact.

The Austrians looked threatening on the break but Northern Ireland were solid at the back with Wrexham's Barry Hunter outstanding. Gillespie then squandered another pair of half chances before Northern Ireland scored the first goal on 27 minutes. Michael Hughes crossed from the left, his West Ham team-mate, Iain Dowie, chested down and Michael O'Neill drove home his third international goal from the edge of the box.

Northern Ireland, despite facing a fierce gale, delivered another blow to flatten the Austrians' resolve after 32 minutes when Dowie converted a penalty after he was brought down by Heimo Pfeifenberger.

The North stretched their lead to three on 52 minutes when Hunter scored his first international goal after Gillespie's cross was half cleared. Markus Schopp headed Austrria back into contention but on 63 minutes the North restored their three-goal advantage when Gray made it 4-1, touching the ball over the line from close range.

Stumpf's close-range effort on 70 minutes brought the score back to 4- 2. Then O'Neill, sent clear on the left, chipped he goalkeeper Michael Konsel to make it 5-2 before, with10 minutes to go, the substitute Arnold Wetl shot in Austria's third.

NORTHERN IRELAND (4-4-2): Fettis (Hull City), Lomas (Man City); Worthington (Leeds United); Hunter (Wrexham); Hill (Leicester City); Lennon (Crewe); Gillespie (Newcastle); O'Neill (Hibernian); Hughes (West Ham); Dowie (West Ham); Gray (Sunderland). McDonald (Queen's Park Rangers) for Gray, 77 Quinn (Reading) for Dowie, 81.

AUSTRIA (4-5-1): Konsel (Rapid Wien), Schopp (Stabil Sturm Graz); Kogler (Austria Memphis); Pfeffer (Austria Memphis) Feiersinger (Casino Salzburg); Marasek (Rapid Wein); Pfeifenberger (Casino Salzburg); Kuhbauer (Rapid Wein); Polster (FC Koln); Herzog (Bayern Munich); Stoger (Rapid Wein). Substitutes: Wetl (Stabil Sturm Graz) and Stumpf (Rapid Wien) for Kuhbauer and Herzog, h-t.

Referee: Leif Sundell (Sweden)