Just 16 days before their opening Euro 2016 game against Poland, Northern Ireland warmed up with a friendly at home to Belarus, on a night that would see the air in South Belfast filled with smoke, and it was only partly caused by Will Grigg.
It was the first meeting between the two sides, meaning that Northern Ireland need games against Andorra, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Gibraltar, Kazakhstan, Kosovo and Macedonia to have played against every other country that is a member of UEFA.
Northern Ireland were straight on the attack, with Kyle Lafferty putting the Belarus keeper under pressure from a cross in the first minute.
A free-kick was awarded for that incident, but Lafferty’s next involvement was to put the ball in the Belarus net when poor defending from Belarus allowed Kyle Lafferty the opportunity to toepoke home from close ranger to make it 1-0.
It was his 17th international goal in 50 appearances, only the 19 behind record holder David Healy.
The game died out a bit after that bright start, with Belarus almost equalising via a Jonny Evans own goal when a cross hit him and looped over, but it was enough to cause Roy Carroll concern.
That was the best that Belarus offered. Any time they got into Northern Ireland’s final third, the danger was easily snuffed out, and any through balls were easily shepherded out for a goal kick.
As the half neared it’s end, Belarus gave Northern Ireland another gift when their keeper punched a cross straight to Conor Washington, who headed home from a few yards out for his second goal at Windsor Park in two appearances.
At the start of the second-half, there were the inevitible substitutions, including Alan Mannus replacing Roy Carroll, Linfield past for Linfield future.
Despite the changes in personnel, the second-half continued to be dominated by Northern Ireland.
Will Grigg, the man on fire, almost scored with his one of his first touches, a header from a free-kick, after coming off the bench.
Also coming off the bench, was Aaron Hughes, winning his 99th cap, meaning he is on track to win his 100th cap for Northern Ireland next weekend against Slovakia, the country he won his first cap against, way back in the last century.
The crowd got what they all wanted to see, when The Man On Fire scored after another gift from the Belarus keeper, who punched a cross straight to him, leaving him only needing to put the ball into the empty net.
And that, was the end of the action, as Northern Ireland recorded an easy win against poor opposition.
After the final whistle, the players made their way back onto the pitch for Michael O’Neill to say a few words to the fans before a fireworks display
For me, that is almost my 2015-2016 season over. I’m planning to do a day trip to Dublin tomorrow, so might take in a League Of Ireland game while i’m there.
In just over two weeks, my 2016-2017 season will start, watching Northern Ireland take on Poland in Nice, and then a few days after that, the fixtures for English and Scottish football get published.
I’m not sure if i’m going to Edinburgh this August, so might not get to any Scottish games.
In terms of Manchester United, i’m at a wedding in the North West of England in September, so hope for a home Sunday game that weekend, while i’ll be hoping the UEFA Cup draw is kind enough to offer the possibility of Thursday and Sunday back to back home games, which I might do.
That can wait though, it’s all about Northern Ireland v Poland. It can’t come soon enough.
We’ve been waiting thirty years for this, another two weeks isn’t going to hurt.