Northern Ireland’s preparation for Euro 2016 got underway on Friday night, showing contempt for superstition by playing on Friday 13th, and even more morbidly, playing the side who help to deny them qualification for two previous finals.

After the events against Greece the previous month, this was always going to be a comedown, especially against unglamourous opposition. Northern Ireland fans are always fond of a moan about friendlies. They moan if the opposition are rubbish, and moan if the opposition are too good. Given that Northern Ireland haven’t won a friendly since 2008, they’ve had a lot to moan about after friendly games.

Talking of moans, the new kit for Euro 2016 has generated a lot of controversy this week. I’m not a fan of it, though to be fair, it didn’t look as bad in the flesh as it did in the promo photos. The problem is, it has to be either navy blue sleeves or a stripe, not both.

Admission prices were set at £10.06 for children and £20.16 for adults, to spell out 10th June 2016, the date that Euro 2016.

It’s a good job the IFA didn’t operate a similar pricing structure for their warm-up games to the 1986 World Cup, as they would have had to charge children £31.05 as the tournament started on 31st May that year.

It wasn’t a great match, friendlies never are. In truth, it was a training exercise. The two drills were – how to break teams down and how to avoid getting caught on the counter attack.

That was Latvia’s plan, to try and catch Northern Ireland on the counter attack, and they gave their hosts some nervous moments in the first-half.

Northern Ireland got the ball out wide a lot and fired in some crosses that were agonisingly just missed landing perfectly for the attacker. Jamie Ward had one of the best early moments when his shot was palmed wide for a corner, while Kyle Lafferty got in behind Latvia’s defence only to drag his shot wide.

The inevitible substitutions came early in the second-half with Carroll, Corry Evans and Magennis all entering the field. Within ten minutes, Northern Ireland got the goal they deserved when a Corry Evans ball in behind the defence came to Steven Davis, who finished after his original header was saved.

Evans had minutes earlier had a shot from the edge of the area by Latvia’s goalkeeper. Northern Ireland had chances to make it 2-0 but weren’t able to take them. The result was never in doubt as Latvia never threatened an equaliser.

A win – Good, which means that Northern Ireland are now unbeaten in 8 games, or 9 if you include the behind closed doors friendly against the Republic of Ireland, and they took the opportunity to try out players ahead of the finals.

Not a great game, but a good night.

Indications are that there will be home friendlies in March and May next year that have not yet been arranged.

This was Northern Ireland’s last game of 2015, and what a year it has been. Hopefully, 2016 will be even more memorable.

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Was up in Stroke City recently for work, but it wasn’t all work. Mind you, there wasn’t much play.

Was out on my lunch on one of those days, and spotted some Street Art, so investigated further, and saw some more.

I don’t know exactly where it was, but the one of the bird was at the entrance to Victoria Market. If you’re more familiar with the city than me, you’ll know what i’m talking about. I also spotted a colourful piece at the opposite end of the Peace Bridge from Foyle Street.

Going into the city, I saw a great peace on Glendermott Street. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get a photo due to it being too far away to walk to on my lunch.

If you are up there and have some spare time on your hands, it is well worth checking out.

I didn’t go out on my lunch in search of Street Art, but I stumbled upon it, and it would have been rude not to get some photos.

Maybe some day i’ll take the plunge and head up for a day on my own time to go in search for Street Art/Londonstreet Art in Stroke City.

Photo Album



Do you really want to read a match report? Oh, alright then.

It had been a month long wait for Northern Ireland fans since Kyle Lafferty’s dramatic late equaliser against Hungary. It wasn’t a goal that gained a point for Northern Ireland, it was much more than that.

Even if Northern Ireland had lost 1-0 to Hungary, they still would have went into this double header with their destiny in their hands, and with a better head to head record on away goals. It would have meant they would have needed to win both of their final games. Now they only needed to win one.

Not only that, there was the issue of momentum, Hungary on an upward spiral, Northern Ireland deflated. The 1-1 draw meant that Northern Ireland were one win away from their first ever European Championship.

There are those who feel that it should be their third at least, or even fourth. You see, messing up European Championship Qualifiers is what Northern Ireland do best.

In 1983, like 2015, France was the destination Northern Ireland were dreaming of, but were derailed by a 1-0 defeat in Turkey, and missed out on goal difference, despite beating reigning champions and World Cup finalists West Germany home and away.

Twelve years later, a home defeat to Latvia cost Northern Ireland dearly, when even a draw would have set up a play-off against Holland at Anfield, despite being unbeaten away from home in the campaign.

It was Latvia again, alongside Iceland, in September 2007, which cost Northern Ireland a trip to Austria and/or Switzerland the following summer, despite beating Spain, Denmark and Sweden at Windsor Park, and coming home from both Scandinavian trips with a draw.

Those that believe in football going full circle will have been positive going into this game. In 1979, England celebrated qualification for a tournament at Windsor Park, before Northern Ireland got to celebrate qualification for a tournament six years later, the 1986 World Cup, the last time Northern Ireland were at a major finals.

In 2003, Northern Ireland travelled to Greece, with the home side needing a win to qualify. They got it. So surely it was now Northern Ireland’s turn?

If only football was that simple. The conundrum was further complicated by four key absences going into this game – Chris Baird, Kyle Lafferty and Conor McLaughlin through suspension, and Jonny Evans through injury. Evans West Brom teammate Gareth McAuley was passed fit to play, the crowd singing his name at every set piece, his two goals against Faroe Islands last month raising expectations every time he goes forward.

The absence of Lafferty created a vacancy up front, with Northern Ireland’s strikers hitting a run of form for their clubs. In reality, it was either Josh Magennis or Liam Boyce. It was Magennis who got the nod.

Magennis was straight into the thick of the action, looking set to score when the ball was flicked on to him, only for a Greek defender to get a block in.

He was later denied again by a Greek block when midway through the half when the ball fell to him. Without the block, it would have been a goal.

A free-kick aimed at McAuley didn’t quite work, but the ball fell to Oliver Norwood, and his shot just went wide.

It’s an age old cliche that when you play away from home, you keep possession early on and quiten the crowd. Greece were keeping possesion, but the crowd was still noisy, even more so when Northern Ireland were putting pressure on the Greek goal.

Within minutes, Northern Ireland fans were celebrating a goal, but it was a goal that was scored 1556 miles away in Ujpest, as Faroe Islands took a shock 1-0 lead away to Hungary.

If that score stood, Northern Ireland would be going to France, regardless of the score at Windsor Park.

While Northern Ireland fans were celebrating, Greece had an attack which caused problems for Northern Ireland’s defence. A reminder, that all concentration should be on events in Belfast rather than Ujpest.

Jamie Ward headed wide from a free-kick, while Greece had a corner that caused concern in Northern Ireland’s defence, before the breakthrough came, when Corry Evans played in Stuart Dallas, whose low cross was finished by Steven Davis from close range.

It was similar, albeit from a different side, to a goal he score for Rangers against Celtic in May 2009. I don’t think anybody really cared if it was similar to another goal in his goals archive.

The final action of the half was a reminder that the game was far from won, as Kostas Mitroglou hit the post. As the ball was in the air, it felt like time stood still. The ball came out, and landed right at the feet of a Northern Ireland defender, who cleared it out of play for a throw-in.

The throw-in was in a dangerous position. Before Greece had a chance to keep the pressure on, the half-time whistle blew. When something like that happens, you get the feeling that it might just be your night.

Within minutes of the second-half starting, Northern Ireland got breathing space when Josh Magennis headed from from a corner. As the ball looped up in the air, like when Mitroglou hit the post, it felt like time stood still. Magennis was the first Northern Ireland player to score at the Railway End, not that he cared about that little statistic.

Within ten minutes, it was 3-0, when a Greek header clear fell to Steven Davis on the edge of the box, who headed it back into the box, and it went straight in.

Everything was falling into place for Northern Ireland. The fans in Windsor Park believed it was job done, though i’m sure there were seasoned campaigners who still felt Greece would come back and win 4-3.

With five minutes to go, Greece pulled a goal back. Here we go, a dramatic and heartbreaking 3-3 draw awaits. The final minutes weren’t allowed to be relaxing, it’s not the Northern Ireland Way.

Thankfully, they saw the game out and won 3-1, the long 30 year wait was over.

Elsewhere in the group, Hungary were to be denied by a late equaliser for the second matchday running, as Romania secured a late draw against Finland to give them a one point lead over Hungary going into the last matchday.

Romania went on to beat Faroe Islands 3-0 to qualify, rendering Hungary’s 4-3 defeat away to Greece irrelevent.

Hungary are now waiting and hoping that Ukraine fail to beat Spain at home in order to secure qualification as the best 3rd place team.

It would make this achievement greater, to qualify by winning a group, facing off competition from the best 3rd placed team.

Nobody in Windsor Park cared about the race between Romania and Hungary, they were too busy cheering their heroes as they did a lap of honour.

A new generation of fans will no longer have to hear about Israel in 1981. They have their own qualification moment that they witnessed.

The players left the pitch but the fans remained, singing and chanting as the PA System blasted out party songs by the likes of Queen, Tony Christie and Black Eyed Peas, before the players came out to do a second lap of honour.

They deserved it.

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The new incarnation of Windsor Park hasn’t been fully built yet, but it’s already had it’s first memorable night. Not as memorable as we all would have hoped, but a late point that meant Northern Ireland were one win away from qualification for Euro 2016 instead of the three points that would have sent them to France.

The omens weren’t good pre-match, with Hungary winning on all three of their visits to Windsor Park.

However, there were two good omens in Northern Ireland’s favour. It was ten years to the day since the win over England at Windsor Park, and exactly one year to the day since the win over Hungary in Budapest.

That win over England was good, and it acted as a springboard for the heroic failure of the Euro 2008 campaign. A win tonight, would have actually achieved something.

The maths was simple, win and Northern Ireland were through, draw and they would need to win one of their last two games. A defeat wouldn’t have been disastrous. It would have meant Northern Ireland had their destiny in their hands and would need to win their last two games to be certain of qualification.

It was Hungary who had the first shot of the game when a snap shot from Dzsudzsak went just wide.

Northern Ireland were fighting for every ball, the Hungarians were denied time and space to do anything with it.

Early on, Steven Davis chased for possession and won a corner. Attempts to recreate David Healy’s second goal against Spain in 2006 with Stuart Dallas being the goalscorer, but it didn’t happen for him.

It wasn’t the only innovate set piece from Northern Ireland. A free-kick just over halfway saw Hungary expecting it to be played high into the box. A long pass on the ground looked like it was going to set Stuart Dallas through on goal, but a Hungarian defender spotted the danger cleared the danger when his tackle went off Dallas for a goal kick.

Northern Ireland were putting the Hungarians under pressure but couldn’t get the goal they needed, mainly because there were no clear sights of goal.

Towards the end of the first-half, Hungary came into it more. Their best moment came when Nemeth got in behind the defence and saw his shot saved by McGovern, who has kept his place in the team since starting against Romania.

It was all irrelevent, as he was flagged offside, though neither player or the crowd knew it at the time.

Hungary were better in the second-half though Northern Ireland had their moments. Most notably, when Gareth McAuley was unable to make contact from a set piece. A flick on almost found Kyle Lafferty but he couldn’t get his foot on the ball.

Niall McGinn came on for Corry Evans as Northern Ireland tried to go more attacking. There was no clear chances, and defences were on top. It looked like being a 0-0 draw.

It was the sort of game, that if there was a goal, it would finish 1-0, it was that tense.

On 73 minutes, Hungary went in front when Michael McGovern dropped a free-kick right to the feet of a Hungarian right inside the six yard box. There was no time for a Northern Ireland defender to stop him scoring. There was just enough time for fans to gasp at what had happened just before he put it in the net. Windsor Park fell silent.

It was the first goal scored at the new Railway Stand. Richard Guzmics is the name to remember for future trivia questions.

Northern Ireland natuarally responded by trying to get an equaliser. More attacking subs came on, with Josh Magennis and Shane Ferguson entering the action.

Northern Ireland were getting into good positions but the final ball was poor. When they got the final ball right, there was usually a Hungarian in the road. One way or another, Hungary were repelling Northern Ireland away from their goal. They were doing enough to secure a vital win.

Hungary’s free-kicks, throws and goal kicks were now suddenly taking longer.

With ten minutes to go, Chris Baird got two yellow cards in the one phase of play for bringing down a Hungarian player on the halfway line. Baird’s high attempt at a tackle was lucky not to be punished with a straight red.

It was probably lucky for Northern Ireland that it was a second yellow, as he’ll only miss the Greece game and be available for Finland. Hopefully, that Finland game will be irrelevent in terms of qualification.

Five minutes of injury time were announced, as Northern Ireland aimed for one last push. They never looked like scoring but football fans will always believe.

The pattern of the previous ninety minutes aren’t really a factor when you’re chasing a goal in injury time. With each passing second, it looked like being an agonising defeat.

Northern Ireland had one last chance, a corner from the right hand side. It went passed everybody and came to Niall McGinn on the edge of the box. It wasn’t one of those innovative set pieces they did with Stuart Dallas in the first-half, the ball just fell that way.

His shot was parried by Gabor Kiraly, he of the grey jogging bottoms that look like pyjamas fame, straight to Kyle Lafferty who fired home the equaliser, and Windsor Park went wild.

It might have been a draw, but it felt like a win. Hungary were back in the race and Northern Ireland were under pressure. Now they have a four point gap with only six to play for. By winning the head to heads with Hungary, Northern Ireland have the margin for error that two draws will be enough.

It got worse for Hungary, when they discovered that Romania could only draw with Greece.

I said in June that by playing Romania, Northern Ireland and Hungary in their final three games of the group, Greece will be the Kingmakers. Results against them will decide who goes to France.

Hopefully, in just over four weeks time, it will be Northern Ireland who will be coronated.

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As the season was winding down, the matches were less frequent, now a fortnightly thing.

I began May with the Irish Cup Final in the Portadown end, getting drenched, having to park at The Odyssey and the barrier eating my ticket, and to compound the misery – Glentoran won the cup.

Two weeks later was my second trip of the season to Old Trafford, with Arsenal being the visitors in a game that finished 1-1.

Two weeks later, I was back in the North-West of England, to see Northern Ireland take on Qatar in Crewe. Most of the appeal of the game was the opportunity to visit another ground for the first time.

Near to a train station and with a programme shop, Crewe gets a thumbs up from me.

The next day was spent in Liverpool. I had some spare time on my hands, and headed to Goodison Park, in search of a mural of Dixie Dean i’d read about, but doesn’t appear to be there anymore.

Undeterred by this, I decided to get some photos of the exterior of the ground.

Two weeks later, one last game, Northern Ireland’s European Championship Qualifier against Romania, and an opportunity to experience the new Railway Stand at Windsor Park for he first time.

It was the only 0-0 draw I saw all season.

Glentoran v Portadown

Glentoran v Portadown Photo Album

Manchester United v Arsenal

Manchester United v Arsenal Photo Album

Northern Ireland v Qatar

Northern Ireland v Qatar Photo Album

Northern Ireland v Romania

Northern Ireland v Romania Photo album


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.

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After ending February with Irish Cup disappointment for Linfield, it was the league that concerned them in March, and began well with an easy home win over Warrenpoint Town.

The following week, it was off to Drumahoe to see Linfield grind out a win against Institute.

A blank Saturday was followed by a trip to Scotland to see Northern Ireland play at Hampden Park.

The football kept coming, as the following Saturday, I was headed to Mourneview Park to see Linfield lose 1-0 to Glenavon.

The following day, it was off to Windsor Park for a bit of Sunday football to see Northern Ireland take on Finland, and get some photos of the redevelopment of Windsor Park, which was going so well at that point.

Little did I know then, but it would be my last time in The Kop before it was demolished

Linfield v Warrenpoint Town

Institute v Linfield

Scotland v Northern Ireland

Scotland v Nothern Ireland Photo Album

Glenavon v Linfield

Northern Ireland v Finland

Northern Ireland v Finland Photo Album


It might have been the last day in May, but my football season was still ongoing, as I headed to Crewe (a first time visit) to see Northern Ireland take on Qatar in an international friendly.

It was Qatar’s home game, and they chose Crewe as the venue as they are having a training camp in England. Both teams are working towards vital qualifiers in June – Qatar in the World Cup and Northern Ireland in the European Championship.

I had eyes on the rumoured friendly away to Wales, but as that didn’t happen, I decided to head to this one. Easy to get to and cheap to get to as well.

I flew in to Liverpool and met a friend at Lime Street and got the train to Crewe, 30 minutes away. The ground was near the train station. Not that surprising considering that Crewe Alexandra are known as The Railwaymen.

As we headed to the ground and picked up our tickets, we saw a programme shop and a bar. Near a train station, with a programme shop and a bar. This ground is almost perfect.

Our seats were in the upper end of the main stand, the only stand in operation for this game. Sadly, the Whitby Morrison Ice Cream Van Stand wasn’t in use.

The first noticed was the pitch. It wasn’t in the best of condition. I had some spare time on the Monday morning before my train to Liverpool so headed to have another look at the ground, and the pitch was being torn up and relaid.

The Football League season ended on May 2nd, four weeks prior to this game. With the number of Northern Ireland players playing at this level, there was a danger some players could be doing into the game against Romania without a game in six weeks. That’s why this game was so important, even if the result was not.

Unsurprisingly, it was a much changed team from that which faced Finland at the end of March. Of those that were on the pitch, Niall McGinn, Conor McLeaughlin and Stuart Dallas were getting a lot of joy out wide.

Northern Ireland were dominant and Qatar didn’t have an attacking threat. Qatar’s keeper was worked but not overworked. Unfortunately, Northern Ireland couldn’t get the goal that reflected their dominance.

They didn’t have to wait long in the second-half to get that goal, as Stuart Dallas fired home in the opening minutes of the second-half. Northern Ireland looked set for victory.

Patrick McNair, in his second cap, took the opportunity to get forward, firing a few shots on goal.

Qatar got more into the game and had a short period of pressure. During this period, they got a goal, with a long range strike.

As with any friendly, substitutions in the final twenty minutes disrupted the rhythm of the game and the game fizzled out into a draw.

With a lack of footballing entertainment, Northern Ireland fans taunted their opponents over recent scandals at FIFA, asking “How much did you pay, for the FIFA World Cup?” and taunting their own Jim Boyce over watches he received with “Boycie Boycie, what’s the time?” before some local Crewe fans managed to start “We hate Port Vale, we hate Port Vale”

Overall, a good trip, and always nice to visit a stadium for the first time. If i’m ever in the North-West of England and at a loose end, I wouldn’t be adverse to making a return visit to Crewe.

The result wasn’t important, it was all about getting match fitness for Romania. Still would have liked to have won. Should have won. Qatar are not a good team and have a lot to do in order to just be competitive for the 2022 World Cup, that they are due (situation changing every day) to host.

So, i’ve travelled to see Northern Ireland at Millennium Stadium, Old Trafford, Hampden Park, Lansdowne Road, Amsterdam Arena and now Gresty Road.

Hopefully, the next one will be in Paris, Lille or Lens next summer.

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October. The month that was spent at Windsor Park. Five matches, all at the same stadium. Still, it gave me a chance to document the ongoing redevelopment work, as various construction milestones were reached, such as the demolition of the South Stand, and the first bits of steel added to the Railway Stand.

Unfortunately, the Railway Stand had more steel than Linfield during this month.

The month began well, with wins over Ballymena and Institute taking Linfield top, before defeats to Cliftonville and Crusaders saw them drop down to 5th.

Inbetween Linfield’s wins over Ballymena and Institute, came Northern Ireland’s Euro 2016 Qualifying win over Faroe Islands.

Linfield v Ballymena United

Northern Ireland v Faroe Islands

Northern Ireland v Faroe Islands Photo Album

Linfield v Institute

Linfield v Cliftonville

Linfield v Crusaders


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.

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