11 October 2014 22:41
Northern Ireland have made their best start to a qualifying campaign in 46 years after beating Faroe Islands 2-0 in Belfast on Saturday.
Goals from Gareth McAuley and Kyle Lafferty in the opening 20 minutes put Northern Ireland in control of their latest Euro 2016 qualifier at Windsor Park.
The Faroe Islands spurned a chance to halve their deficit when Frodi Benjaminsen’s penalty was superbly saved by Roy Carroll.
Yet there were few further problems for the hosts, who last opened up with successive qualifying wins in 1968, as they followed up an impressive triumph in Hungary last month with another three points to move top of Group F.
Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill was dealt a blow in the lead-up to the game when Chris Brunt (groin) joined Jonny Evans on the sidelines.
O’Neill responded with a positive change, however, bringing in the attack-minded Shane Ferguson, and the bold selection was rewarded as his team played on the front foot from the first whistle.
Northern Ireland seemed to pick up right where they left off in Hungary, pressuring their opponents all over the field and winning two early corners
It was from the second of those set-pieces that McAuley broke the deadlock on six minutes, as he volleyed in at the back post after Chris Baird had arched his neck to flick on Oliver Norwood’s corner.
The hosts almost doubled the lead seven minutes later. Ferguson cut in from the left and sent in a teasing right-foot cross that Lafferty met on the volley, but the forward couldn’t make a good enough contact to test the goalkeeper from six yards.
The same pair combined again in the 20th minute and this time the result was a second goal. Once again Ferguson worked the ball onto his right foot and Lafferty was able to get across his man and apply a deft flick to turn the ball in at the front post.
Lafferty spurned two headed opportunities as Northern Ireland continued to dominate.
The visitors were handed an unlikely route back into the game 10 minutes before the break, however, when Ferguson was adjudged to have pulled back Johan Edmundsson when chasing a long ball, and a penalty was given.
Benjaminsen stepped up to take the spot-kick, but Carroll produced a fabulous save diving to his left, clawing the ball onto the post with his right hand.
There was little in the way of goalmouth action after the break as Northern Ireland eased to victory.
Conor McLaughlin had a great chance to extend his side’s lead when a loose ball fell at his feet eight yards from goal, but the defender scuffed his finish harmlessly wide.
The miss did not prove costly and Northern Ireland will now visit Greece for their next qualifier in high spirits.