For the first time in 13 months, Northern Ireland were playing at Windsor Park, in their only home game of 2014.
A lot has happened since that game against Portugal, it’s been a rollercoaster of emotions. From the step forwards of beating Russia and heroic defeat against Portugal, to the lows of defeats in Luxembourg and Azerbaijan, before going back to the high of last month’s win in Hungary.
Of all the teams to face after that, i’m not sure Faroe Islands would be top of the list. It would be such a Northern Ireland thing to drop points against the Faroes after a win in Hungary.
Past results against the Faroes (1-1, 5-0, 1-1, 4-0) suggested it could go one of two ways. Northern Ireland don’t do expectation very well.
Windsor Park was full. Well, sort of. All the seats that could be sold were sold, with the South and Railway Stands out of use. Foundation work is well underway for the Railway Stand, while the South Stand is halfway demolished.
Northern Ireland kicked-off and went straight on the attack, putting the Faroes under pressure and forcing them into a goal line clearance from a Gareth McAuley header. McAuley was injured making the header and in discomfort. It briefly looked like he might have to be subbed.
Thankfully, he wasn’t, and fired home from close range after a header fell to him within minutes of coming back on. It was the dream start Northern Ireland wanted.
Though, the last time Faroe Islands visited Windsor Park, Northern Ireland got an early goal, before a nervous display for the rest of the half, with a second-half flurry of goals giving the deceptive impression of a 4-0 romp.
This was different, the attacking was relentless. Everytime Northern Ireland had the ball, there was a player always available for a pass or a cross. Everytime Faroe Islands had the ball, they didn’t know what to do, often losing it and giving Northern Ireland the chance to build another attack.
More attempts on goal followed, with Northern Ireland getting closer and closer, before eventually making it 2-0 when Kyle Lafferty flicked home a cross from the left.
More attempts followed, but as the half neared it’s end, it was Faroe Islands who had the next big opportunity when they were awarded a penalty. Thankfully, Roy Carroll saved the penalty and Northern Ireland survived, then picked up where they left off.
As the second-half started, Northern Ireland needed a 3rd just to be sure, despite the fact that Faroe Islands had offered nothing in open play.
The second-half was a bit of a non event as Northern Ireland tried to get a 3rd goal (they had enough chances) but saving themselves for the game against Greece on Tuesday.
Not only did Northern Ireland win tonight, they had two other wins, in the shape of both other group games finishing draws.
Not sure what to make of Greece drawing in Finland tonight. When the draw was made, I had them as runaway group winners, with everybody else bar Faroe Islands playing for 2nd and 3rd.
You could look at it as Greece are maybe not as good as I thought, or they are just waiting to explode into life. Hopefully, the former.
Regardless of what happens, i’m planning on being in France for the finals. Benn planning this ever since France were awarded hosting rights. June 2015 flights went on sale this week so I did a little dry run regarding prices.
Hopefully, Northern Ireland will be there, but there’s a long way to go.
I’d happily take two draws from the away games in Greece and Romania, ahead of Finland’s visit to Windsor Park in March. I might just get shouted down for being too negative.