Bryan Hamilton did the Republic of Ireland manager, Jack Charlton, a huge favour at Windsor Park, Belfast, last night by destroying Austria's dreams of reaching the finals of the European Championship.
It was a night when Northern Ireland saved their best for last and their manager, Hamilton, is frustrated that his talented young side will only be watching the finals in England next summer. "There is a wind of change blowing through Northern Ireland football and I believe we are heading for brighter days," Hamilton said. His team finished third in Group Six, level on points with the Republic.
Michael O'Neill of Hibernian was the architect of this rousing victory with two goals. There was also a towering performance from Wrexham's central defender, Barry Hunter, making only his fifth international appearance.
Austria needed at least a point to keep their hopes alive but they never recovered after conceding two goals in the space of five minutes in the first half. O'Neill struck the opener when Michael Hughes crossed the ball and Iain Dowie chested it down for the Hibs man to fire a sweet left- foot shot home from the edge of the box.
The Irish added a second in the 32nd minute when Heimo Pfeifenberger brought down Dowie in the box. The West Ham striker picked himself up to convert the penalty. Hunter scored his first goal at this level after 53 minutes when Michael Konsel punched away a Keith Gillespie cross and the Wrexham centre-half finished in style.
The Austrians pulled one back through a Markus Schopp header but Northern Ireland regained their three-goal advantage when Phil Gray claimed the final touch after Hunter had beaten Konsel to a Hughes corner in the 64th minute.
Christian Stumpf knocked in a rebound to reduce the deficit six minutes later but in the 78th minute O'Neill chipped his second goal after Hughes had raced almost the full length of the pitch to put him clear. Austria snatched their third goal nine minutes from time through Arnold Wetl.
NORTHERN IRELAND (4-4-2): Fettis (Hull City); Lomas (Manchester City), Worthington (Leeds United), Hunter (Wrexham), Hill (Leicester City); Lennon (Crewe Alexandra), Gillespie (Newcastle Utd), O'Neill (Hibernian), Hughes (West Ham); Dowie (West Ham); P Gray (Sunderland). Substitutes: McDonald (Queen's Park Rangers) for Gray, 77; Quinn (Reading) for Dowie, 81.
AUSTRIA (4-5-1): Konsel (Rapid Vienna); Schopp (Sturm Graz), Kogler (Austria Vienna), Pfeffer (Austria Vienna), Feiersinger (Casino Salzburg); Marasek (Rapid Vienna), Pfeifenberger (Casino Salzburg), Kuhbauer (Rapid Vienna), Polster (Cologne), Herzog (Bayern Munich); Stoger (Rapid Vienna). Substitutes: Wetl (Sturm Graz) for Kuhbauer, h-t; Stumpf (Rapid Vienna) for Herzog, h-t.
Referee: L Sundell (Sweden).Reuse content