As supporters entered the Railway Stand, they were greeted with a sign with an image of a construction worker with the caption “All set and ready to go”
It might have been referring to the Railway Stand, but Northern Ireland fans were hoping if would apply to the footballers on the pitch, who like the builders off it, have battled against the odds during this qualifying campaign.
Fans got used to their new surroundings, on an evening that the weather resembled that of Fr …..
I can’t say it, it’s almost taboo to mention the name of that country that Northern Ireland are hoping to play in next summer.
Hope for Northern Ireland came from that the fact that Romania had lost on both their previous visits to Windsor Park. Their last competitive visit, in 1984, was the night the North Stand was opened.
Fate would bring Romania to Windsor Park on the night the Railway Stand and South Stand would be used it first time. It certainly wasn’t planned that way in the construction schedule.
More recent inspiration, came in the form of Wales win over Belgium the previous night, with Northern Ireland hoping their side would get a similar result against higher ranked opponents.
The night didn’t get off to a good start, as news filtered through of the result from the 5pm kick-off, with Hungary winning 1-0 in Finland to cut the gap behind Northern Ireland to 1 point.
Northern Ireland would be finishing the night in a qualifying position regardless, but it could be a lot less comfortable than it was on Saturday morning.
The big team news for Northern Ireland, came with the inclusions of Michael McGovern and Stuart Dallas. McGovern was playing in place of the injured Roy Carroll, while Dallas was rewarded with a start after impressive performances against Finland and Qatar.
A regular performer for his club, and having played in a Scottish Cup Final, there was no fear of McGovern having a “Scott Carson type of night”
McGovern didn’t have a lot to do, but what he did do, he did well. Romania had some speculative shots on goal early on, but McGovern was in the right position to save if the shot was on target.
There was one moment of worry when Romania attempted to shoot directly from a corner, but McGovern was able to get back to his post to stop the ball going in.
You could see that the Romanians had the technical ability to punish Northern Ireland if they got a clear sight at goal. Northern Ireland didn’t help themselves with a couple of stray passes. Anytime Romania got in or around the penalty area, there was usually enough bodies to get rid of the danger.
Northern Ireland were holding their own. It was clear they were trying to get Kyle Lafferty as much of the ball as possible. They weren’t hoofing it to him, they were playing it to him.
As well as Lafferty played, he had the ball in the wrong areas. Northern Ireland needed him to be in the box to be on the end of the attacks he was starting. If only he could be cloned.
Northern Ireland’s best moments came when Chris Brunt caused a bit of a scramble by attempting a Paul Scholes v Bradford, and Jonny Evans having a header spectacularly saved by Romania’s keeper.
As the second-half kicked off, Northern Ireland attacked the new Railway Stand, where their fans who had previously occupied The Kop were based.
Romania’s keeper had a few dodgy goal kicks which gave away possession. Northern Ireland fans behind the goal were less than sympathetic.
Northern Ireland had a late rally, with fans hopeful of a dramatic late winner. When the ball fell to Kyle Lafferty after a corner, it looked like being it, but his snapshot was saved by Romania’s keeper.
It was a game either side could have won, so a draw was a fair result. The real winners were Hungary.
The only sour note of the night was a photographer being hit with a banger thrown from the Romanian section of the crowd. A steward also required treatment during the incident. I couldn’t see if he was hit as well or if it was from shock at being close to the bang that went off.
3rd place Hungary are now just two points behind Northern Ireland. It’s the same position after the game in Romania, but now two games further on.
Romania and Hungary face each other in the next matchday. The ideal result is a Romania win. Not only would it make the dream of qualification closer, but it would kill Hungary’s momentum before they arrive at Windsor Park later that week.
There’s nothing Northern Ireland can do about Budapest, so it’s not worth worrying about. Northern Ireland must worry about themselves, and their game against the Faroe Islands.
Whatever Hungary do against Romania, Northern Ireland must ensure Hungary arrive at Windsor Park to face a Northern Ireland team three points better off than now.
Faroe Islands beat Greece last night to do the double over them. A great result for Northern Ireland as it will kill the idea of any complacency towards the Faroe Islands.
Greece are effectively out. They’ll be officially eliminated in one of the two matchdays. It’s an incredible decline in such a short space of time, to reach the Quarter-Finals in 2012 and be out of contention a year before Euro 2016.
Hopefully, by the time Greece arrive at Windsor Park, they’ll be gone and fulfilling fixtures. They play Romania, Northern Ireland and Hungary in their final three games of the group.
They might get anywhere near France, but Greece could be the team who decides who does.
Applications for Euro 2016 tickets are now open, and are open for the next month. I’m going to fill out my application in the next week.
I didn’t want to do it in the build-up to this game for fear of putting a scud on things.
348 days after it started, the 2014-2015 season is now over for me. It’s possibly only two weeks before the 2015-2016 season begins for me.
Last night was my 55th match of the season, and it was my first 0-0 draw. It had to be. I should have out money on it.
By the way, that sign that met Northern Ireland fans as they entered the North Stand, the caption in full read “All set and ready to go!! Next match expect even more”
Let’s hope so.