Northern Ireland lose in Bulgaria with second-half collapse in World Cup qualifier

Conor Washington had given the visitors a half-time lead

Ian Parker
Tuesday 12 October 2021 21:59
Ian Baraclough saw his Northern Ireland side beaten by Bulgaria (Liam McBurney/PA).
Ian Baraclough saw his Northern Ireland side beaten by Bulgaria (Liam McBurney/PA).

A bad week for Northern Ireland got worse on Tuesday night as two crisp Todor Nedelev strikes saw Bulgaria come from behind to win 2-1 in Sofia.

Conor Washington’s sixth international goal had given Ian Baraclough’s side a half-time lead as they looked to have responded well to Saturday’s controversial 2-0 defeat in Switzerland which effectively ended World Cup qualifying hopes, but it all went wrong after the break.

Bulgarian boss Yasen Petrov shuffled his pack at half-time and got the rewards, although Nedelev took the credit as he beat Bailey Peacock-Farrell in fine fashion twice in 11 minutes to turn things around just after the hour.

It made for more frustration for Baraclough, who had finally built some positive momentum last month but has seen things unravel quickly in the last week, the Qatar dream now definitively dead.

The aim after Saturday’s demoralising defeat in Geneva, shaped by the contentious first-half red card for Jamal Lewis, was to try to preserve seeding and look to the future – and to that end Liverpool’s 18-year-old full-back Conor Bradley was handed a first international start as one of four changes.

The early signs were all good – Bradley was one of Northern Ireland’s brightest performers as they quickly pegged Bulgaria back in a dominant first-half performance.

Jordan Thompson was the first to test goalkeeper Ivan Karadzhov as he nicked the ball just inside the Northern Ireland half, driving at goal before shooting from just outside the area.

Baraclough’s men were pressing high, pushing Bulgaria on to the back foot, and creating chances as a result.

Paddy McNair should have done better than head straight at Karadzhov when Shane Ferguson’s cross found him at the far post, and the 32-year-old goalkeeper, making only his second international appearance, then kept out a snapshot from Washington from the resulting corner.

Bradley set up chances for Thompson and Josh Magennis, while weaving into the box and taking on two defenders to win a corner.

The breakthrough came 10 minutes before the break as Washington poked home when the goalkeeper pushed Magennis’ header in his direction, although Northern Ireland had to wait through a long VAR check before celebrating.

But Petrov sent on Ilian Iliev at the break, getting quick rewards as Northern Ireland struggled to deal with a revitalised Bulgaria.

The equaliser came in the 53rd minute as Iliev’s cross was deflected into the path of Nedelev, who got clear of Ferguson to fire a low shot into the net.

Northern Ireland could not stem the tide and, 10 minutes after conceding the first, they found themselves behind.

Nedelev’s second was even better than the first as Ivaylo Chochev laid off a curling cross from Kiril Despedov and Nedelev bent a shot into the top right corner of Peacock-Farrell’s net.

Baraclough sought inspiration from the bench. Stuart Dallas was left out of the starting line-up due to a minor knock, but came on along with Jordan Jones as Bradley and Magennis took a seat.

But the composure and control they had shown in the first half was gone. A significant weakness for Northern Ireland under Baraclough has been their inability to come from behind and they rarely looked like finding an equaliser here.

Thompson sent a free-kick wastefully high and wide with six minutes to go, but Karadzhov was otherwise a spectator as Bulgaria moved above the visitors into third place in Group C – in which Italy and Switzerland are now the only teams still alive.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged in