Northern Ireland start Nations League campaign with defeat

Northern Ireland 1-2 Bosnia & Herzegovina

Saturday, 8th September 2018, 4:57 pm
Updated Sunday, 9th September 2018, 12:27 am
Northern Ireland's George Saville looks to be brought down by Bosnia defender Ervin Zukanovic.
Northern Ireland's George Saville looks to be brought down by Bosnia defender Ervin Zukanovic.

Somehow Northern Ireland started their UEFA Nations League campaign with a defeat to Bosnia & Herzegovina.

Goals in each half by Haris Duljevic and Elvis Saric ensured Robert Prosinecki's side left Windsor Park with the points, despite Will Grigg's late consolation goal, but in truth Northern Ireland did more than enough to win the game.

Despite the score-line Northern Ireland boss Michael O'Neill will have been encouraged by some of his side's play and their never say die attitude, which in the end nearly earned them a share of the spoils.

Having played some attractive football and looked threatening in the final third, the Green and White Army were left scratching their heads at how they had loss the encounter.

The home side should have had a penalty inside the first minute but referee Pavel Kralovec waved away George Saville's appeals, after the midfielder was clearly brought down inside the box by Bosnia defender Ervin Zukanovic.

With their tails up Northern Ireland and Niall McGinn in particular tormenting the Bosnia back-line but they were reduced to long range efforts, which failed to really trouble Bosnia keeper Ibrahim Sehic.

Some neat passing by midfield trio Oliver Norwood, Steven Davis and Saville ensured the home side were always on the front foot in the opening quarter.

After the penalty claim, McGinn, who was having a field day against full-back Eldar Civic, went close on 20 minutes but his effort from the right hand side of the box was saved by Sehic.

Totally against the run of play Bosnia had their first chance, as danger man Edin Dzeko saw his close range flick kept out by debut boy Bailey Peacock-Farrell.

Seven minutes later the visitors broke the deadlock as Haris Duljevic slotted the ball home from close range, after Dzeko's low left footed cross picked the front man inside the six yard box.

Northern Ireland should have levelled things early in the second half as the lively McGinn again easily got away from Civic before seeing his right wing cross find fellow winger Stuart Dallas, but the Leeds United man's poor close range effort was tipped over by Sehic.

Moments later a Norwood left wing free-kick into the six yard was flicked on by Jonny Evans and Kyle Lafferty saw his close range strike instinctively kept out by Sehic, while Saville's follow-up effort was blocked by centre-back Toni Sunjic.

Bosnia, who like in the first half weathered the storm, started to get a foothold in the second half and added a second on 64 minutes, this time after a defensive mistake by Craig Cathcart.

The big centre-back, who has started life at Watford this season in superb form, saw his tame header back to Peacock-Farrell fall well short and Bosnia striker Elvis Saric nipped in before the net-minder and easily slotted the ball home into the empty net.

Michael O'Neill changed things up after that second goal with striking pair Grigg and Liam Boyce replacing Lafferty and right-back Colin McLaughlin, as the home side went to three at the back.

The woodwork came to Northern Ireland's rescue on 75 minutes as Dujevic went close to adding his second, as his curling 20 yard strike from the left hand side of the box, which had Peacock-Farrell beaten, clipped the post.

On 83 minutes a clever flick by Boyce released Saville, but with his weaker right foot his effort from 12 yards was blocked by centre-back Ervin Zukanovic.

To their credit Northern Ireland kept going and they should have pulled one back a minute later as Sehic's poor clearance fell to Norwood on the half-way line, his goalbound strike was deflected into Boyce's path, but the Burton Albion front-man saw his low drive from 10 yards well kept out by the Bosnia net-minder.

In the closing stages substitute Grigg was on hand to turn home the ball after Boyce's clever cut-back, to give some late hope to the Green and White Army.

Then deep into stoppage time Grigg was inches away from getting his boot to Boyce's knock-down, while inside the six yard box, as the home side piled on the pressure in search of a leveller.

Northern Ireland: Bailey Peacock-Farrell, Conor McLaughlin (Liam Boyce 70), Jonny Evans, Craig Cathcart, Jamal Lewis; Niall McGinn (Jamie Ward 77), Oliver Norwood, George Saville, Steven Davis, Stuart Dallas; Kyle Lafferty (Will Gregg 70).

Bosnia & Herzegovina: Ibrahim Sehic, Eldar Civiv (Goran Zakaric 76), Muhamed Besic, Edin Visca, Haris Duljevic, Miralem Pjanic (Riad Bajic 83), Edin Dzeko, Gojko Cimirot, Toni Sunjic, Ervin Zukanovic, Elvis Saric (Rade Krunic 67).

Referee: Mr Pavel Kralovec (Czech Republic).