There was a lot of strangeness around Windsor Park today. It wasn’t just the fact the game was taking place on a Sunday, Northern Ireland’s first home game on this day of the week, it was the fact that Northern Ireland went into a game at this stage with fans expecting victory, a victory that would keep them in a qualifying position. Not something that happens too often.
The much expected and publicised protests, which the media had been foaming at the mouth over since the date for this game was confirmed in February 2014, never materialised. There were a few people handing out leaflets, a normal occurrence at certain Irish League grounds on Saturdays anyway.
It was Finland who made the better start, having a lot of possession in Northern Ireland’s half. Northern Ireland’s best moment in the opening stages came when an Oliver Norwood cross was whipped into a dangerous position, but there as nobody there to get on the end of it.
Finland had the first real chances when a shot had to be turned behind by Roy Carroll, and Niall McGinn had to clear off his line from a corner.
Within minutes, Northern Ireland had the ball on the net, but the goal was disallowed.
I’d love to say if it should have been a goal, but I missed it due to a latecomer telling me I was in his seat, but the stupid idiot was in the wrong section of the stand. I’m almost relived the goal was disallowed due to me missing it.
The game wasn’t going how Northern Ireland wanted. You could see the frustration from Kyle Lafferty. He was making the runs but not getting the passes.
It wasn’t long before Kyle Lafferty had an impact on the game, fighting for a lost cause to set up Jamie Ward through on goal. It seemed certain that Ward would score but it was saved by Finland’s goalkeeper.
Lafferty’s next impact was to put the ball in the net. A set piece didn’t go as hoped, but it was headed back into the box, straight to Lafferty, who volleyed home.
Within minutes he made it 2-0. Jamie Ward lost his footing when trying to cross, but managed to do enough to get the ball to Conor McLaughlin to cross for Lafferty to score.
Both goals owed a lot to players fighting for the ball and making the most of a bad situation. In previous campaigns, the ball might have went out for a goal kick before it even went to Lafferty.
Despite Niall McGinn being unable to divert a shot going wide into the back of the net, it was Finland who had the better of things at the start of the second-half. Finland didn;t have any clear chances, but they had enough of the ball to cause Northern Ireland concern.
Northern Ireland needed to get a 3rd goal, but they couldn’t get out of their own half. The introduction of Stuart Dallas saw him run at Finland defence, and keeping the ball at that end of the pitch.
With each passing minute, it looked like Northern Ireland were going to see out a 2-0 win. Spoke too soon. As the clock approached 91 minutes, Roy Carroll was unable to hold onto a shot, and the rebound was put in.
The final moments were now going to be a lot nervier than hoped. Especially as Northern Ireland tried to put the ball out for a throw by the corner flag from kick-off, and only succeeded in putting the ball out for a goal kick.
Finland had a lot of possession in Northern Ireland’s half and won a corner. The crowd got nervous. Thankfully, Northern Ireland saw the game out and claimed the 3 points.
Elsewhere in the goup, Romania beat Faroe Islands 1-0 to remain top, 1 point ahead of Northern Ireland. The sides meet in the next matchday in June.
More importantly, Hungary were held to a 0-0 draw by Greece, meaning that Northern Ireland in 2nd place, 4 points clear of the Hungarians. Hopefully, Finland can get a result against Hungary in the next matchday.
The mathematics of qualification is, it’s too early, let’s just take one game at a time.
Before Romania, is Qatar in Crewe. Heading over for that game. The main appeal of that game is to visit a stadium i’ve never been to before, and to spend a day in Liverpool (haven’t been since 2010) afterwards.
So, having been to Glasgow, and got Crewe to come, it’s far too early to dream of my next Northern Ireland trip being of a gallic nature.