We were 15 minutes away from a 30 foot statue of Josh Magennis being erected in Bangor Marina. It could still happen, but it won’t be in 2019.
Northern Ireland had hoped this Dutch Double Header would become a virtual play-off for 2nd place, though Holland’s win in Germany in early September put a spanner in the works.
As Northern Ireland led 1-0, things were looking interesting, but three late Dutch goals deflated our bubble.
Those two goals in injury time for Holland meant that they not only had three points, but that if Northern Ireland won the return match at Windsor Park, they would have to do so by a score of 2-0, or a three goal margin in order to win the head to heads should the sides finish level on points.
Since then, Michael O’Neill has left his job as Northern Ireland Manager. Well, sort of. He’s going, but not yet.
I was surprised that he chose Stoke, considering their League position and the general downward spiral since relegation from the Premier League in 2018.
However, he would have seen the impact that The Cowleys had at Huddersfield Town, a club in a similar situation, and felt he could do likewise.
There’s no ideal time for a Manager to leave, if they are lucky to leave a job on their own terms.
It is a credit to O’Neill and the IFA that a deal has been done to minimise disruption, as he will continue as Northern Ireland Manager until their Euro 2020 campaign is over.
This could have been his last game as Manager at Windsor Park, it might not be.
We know that Michael O’Neill will be leaving as Northern Ireland Manager, but we don’t know when his last game will be.
Between you and me, I think it might be at Wembley on Sunday 12th July 2020.
To give you a barometer of Northern Ireland’s progress under O’Neill, it was Holland who they faced in his second match in charge, a friendly in Amsterdam as Northern Ireland were cannon fodder in Holland’s farewell party ahead of Euro 2012.
Now they faced them as genuine rivals, having outperformed them in the previous two campaigns.
Holland fans marched to Windsor Park behind an orange party bus playing bad techno music. As I walked to the ground, I saw the bus parked in a street just off Tate’s Avenue. It had the logo of the tournaments it had travelled to, though it hadn’t been updated since the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. A point at Windsor Park would see them able to add Euro 2020 to the list, and they’d be playing their group matches in Amsterdam.
I’m not sure how it was calculated, but results elsewhere meant that Northern Ireland had already secured a Play-Off spot, though a 3rd place finish should have been enough if the UEFA Nonsense League didn’t exist.
We almost got a dramatic start when Corry Evans charged down a clearance from Holland’s keeper, but was unable to put the ball into the net when he got on the end of it.
Josh Magennis then headed just wide as Northern Ireland chased an early goal.
Holland also had their moments, and Northern Ireland were lucky not the go 1-0 down when a period of pinball in the penalty area saw Holland hit the bar just as the ball looked set to loop in.
Midway through the first-half, Northern Ireland got a penalty for handball. On TV replay, it did look a bit harsh.
Thankfully, Joel Cooper wasn’t taking it, but Steven Davis, Mr Reliable.
Davis stepped up and secured three points. Well, three points at Mount Merrion Avenue rather than Donegall Avenue, as his shot was between the posts but well over the bar.
Yet again in this campaign, Northern Ireland were left to rue a glorious chance gone missing. Ironically, when they needed a goal in Estonia, they got one deflected in when the ball hit Josh Magennis in his Willie John McBride.
The rest of the game drifted towards a 0-0 draw, which suited Holland, as a point would be enough for them to qualify.
The game did finish 0-0, my first 0-0 draw attended this season, and it was enough for Holland, alongside Germany who qualified as a result of this draw.
For stat fans, it also meant that Holland joined England, Scotland, Republic of Ireland and Germany in securing qualification for a tournament at Windsor Park.
Northern Ireland were made to wait on other results to see who their Play-Off opponents are. At the time of writing, it looks like Bosnia away. They finished 4th in a poor group, so we shouldn’t be fearing them.
Plus, we more than matched them in the two UEFA Nations League games.
I’m beginning to think it was a tactical masterstroke to lose twice to them, as we’ll be due a win against them.
Whilst this is taking place, the search for a new Manager will be ongoing. I’m obviously not privy to who has applied for it, but unless a major name (might as well joke about it being Pochettino) applies for it, I would expect it to be Stephen Robinson or Ian Baraclough.
Hopefully, whoever it is, will be taking over a team who have just qualified for the European Championship.