Well, the football season is truly in full swing now, as last night, I attended my first international of the season, albeit, one that should have been played in March.
Despite it being August, in typical Belfast fashion, the weather was only slightly better than when the original game was postponed.
For what it’s worth, if the original game had taken place when scheduled, I think Russia would have won easily. They had a winning run and momentum, but a defeat to Portugal, combined with Portugal and Israel winning while Russia were inactive, meant this was an entirely different game for Russia.
For games like this, you always think about the cliches about wether Russia “Would fancy it”. They conceded a throw-in within 3 seconds. Hmm, wonder if it is one of those nights?
Northern Ireland started well and held their own, but Russia always looked dangerous when they attacked. However, when they get through Northern Ireland’s defence, there always seemed to be another defender ready to cover.
They say, you make your own luck, and if your defenders are in the right place for a set piece, it’s not luck.
About midway through the first-half, I thought to myself that this could be a good night. When Northern Ireland hit the post, and Jamie Ward wasn’t able to put the rebound, I thought it might be one of those nights.
One the verge of half-time, Northern Ireland went 1-0 up when Niall McGinn crossed for Martin Paterson to head in. It showed what Northern Ireland’s performance was about. McGinn didn’t give up when it looked like the ball was going out, and Paterson fought to win that header.
But it wasn’t all about fight, Northern Ireland played some nice football, and weren’t afraid to try new things.
The expected bombardment from Russia never materialised. In fact, Northern Ireland looked more likely to score.
One of the things noticed was a new level of street smart, with players knowing how and where to win cheap free kicks to kill the game or give them a tactical advantage.
Before the kick-off, the atmosphere felt a little flat, but it got better and noisier as the game went on, as the crowd got behind the team throughout the 90 minutes.
Finally, the final whistle went and Northern Ireland got the win. It might not send us to Brazil, but it can be the springboard to moving up the rankings ahead of the Euro 2016 draw.
As disappointing as results have been, Michael O’Neill always had a long-term job to do. With so few games, it was always going to take a while to see the fruits of his labour.
Let’s hope this is a similar springboard to the England win in 2005.