WORLD CUP QUALIFIER: O’Neill team selection bears fruit

Steve Davis celebrates his first half penalty. Pic: Presseye.
Steve Davis celebrates his first half penalty. Pic: Presseye.

Michael O’Neill was confident he got his team selection spot on after tonight’s 4-0 win over San Marino.

Josh Magennis started up front with Jamie Ward playing just behind him.

Then Kyle Lafferty came off the bench and bagged two late goals, perhaps evidence that O’Neill was right to utilise him as a substitute.

“Burton are playing Jamie through the middle and his performances have been excellent there,” O’Neill said, explaining his team selection.

“I felt Josh deserved a chance. He never lets us down and he didn’t let us down tonight. He gave a great shift in the time he was on the pitch.

“Kyle hasn’t played very many minutes over the past year. My decision is do I play with him for 50 minutes and take him off or do we get more out of him bringing him on in the last 20 minutes when the game is stretched a little bit and the opposition or tired. He showed that tonight. He took his chances well.”

It was a comfortable win to celebrate the official opening of the National Stadium at Windsor Park.

Although the performance won’t live long in the memory, it is the Green & White Army’s first victory in their World Cup qualifying campaign.

Michael O’Neill’s side took the lead on 27 minutes from the penalty spot, as skipper Steven Davis slotted home from 12 yards, after Josh Magennis was brought down inside the box.

San Marino were reduced to ten men on 49 minutes after Mirko Palazzi was sent-off for a second bookable offence, when he clipped keeper Michael McGovern.

However, it took a late rally to add to the scoreline, the other three goals coming in the final 11 minutes.

O’Neill was just relieved to avoid a repeat of the previous World Cup qualifying campaign, when Luxembourg snatched a late draw in a game Northern Ireland had dominated.

“That’s always in the back of your mind when it comes to these type of games,” he said. “We just had to make sure we got the second goal. The keeper had made four or five good saves to keep it at 1-0.

“Our own quality at times let us down. Our crossing at times was poor which was disappointing. Overall, the application of the players was very high. At times, we could have shown a bit more quality in terms of the final ball into the box.”

San Marino keeper Simoncini made a string of saves to deny Davis, Jamie Ward, Magennis and substitute Conor Washington.

Lafferty finally beat him on 79 minutes as he side footed home from close range, after Shane Ferguson’s delightful cross picked out the big front man.

On 85 minutes Ward added a third when he ghosted in at the back post to blast past Simoncini.

In the closing stages more sublime set-up play by Davis ended with Lafferty gleefully tapping home from close range.

“It was great in the stadium,” said O’Neill. “The atmosphere was good. The players’ attitude was good which was pleasing. It would be nice to see Josh (Magennis) and Conor (Washington) get on the score-sheet as well but we got minutes for the players that needed them.

“The most important thing was that we won the game comfortably and we can now move on to a game in which we have everything to gain. Anything that we can take will be a huge bonus.”

Northern Ireland: McGovern, McLaughlin (McNair 76), McAuley, J Evans, Ferguson; McGinn, Norwood, Davis, Dallas (Wasington 64), Ward, Magennis (Lafferty 71).

San Marino: Simoncini, Berardi, Coppini, F Vitaioli, Simoncini, M Vitaioli, Hirsch, Stefanelli, Della Valle, Tosi, Palazzi.

Referee: Mr Istvan Kovacs (Romania).