Northern Ireland 2 Norway 0: O'Neill's men cruise into second

By Patric Ridge 27 March 2017 356
Northern Ireland 2 Norway 0: O'Neill's men cruise into second

Northern Ireland re-established their two-point lead over third-placed Czech Republic in World Cup qualifying Group C with a comfortable 2-0 victory over Norway at Windsor Park.

A 6-0 thrashing of San Marino saw Czech Republic go second temporarily, but Northern Ireland responded superbly to move back into a play-off berth.

Michael O'Neill's side were in front inside two minutes as Jamie Ward fired them ahead and Lars Lagerback's start to life as Norway boss got worse after 33 minutes when Conor Washington doubled the hosts' lead.

Washington latched onto Steven Davis' throughball to double Northern Ireland's tally with his first competitive international goal, though Alexander Soderlund had rattled the woodwork at the other end.

Northern Ireland went close to a third early in a tame second-half, but they were able to close out a first win over Norway since 1975 despite failing to add to their tally further.

The victory leaves Northern Ireland on 10 points from their five fixtures, with Azerbaijan next up in June, while Norway are second bottom on just three points.

After a touching tribute to the late Derry City captain Ryan McBride, the hosts wasted no time in taking the lead.

Chris Brunt slipped a neat pass into Ward who, despite a poor first touch, managed to spin away from his marker and dispatch a curling finish into the bottom-right corner.

Lagerback's side saw plenty of the ball as they looked to restore parity, though only a tame effort from Josh King called Michael McGovern into action.

McGovern was beaten shortly before the half-hour mark however - the crossbar coming to Northern Ireland's rescue after Soderlund had capitalised on sloppy defending from O'Neill's men.

Northern Ireland were quick to heed that warning though, Washington rounding off a superb counter-attack in style with an assured finish through the legs of Norway goalkeeper Rune Jarstein.

Stuart Dallas could easily have seen red when he lunged in high on Mohamed Elyounoussi prior to the interval, with the Leeds winger fortunate to escape with only a booking.

Northern Ireland were almost gifted a third moments after the restart - Gustav Valsvik's sloppy header forcing Even Hovland to nod the ball dangerously back towards his own goal.

Despite having plenty of possession, Norway did little to test Northern Ireland's typically rugged defence - King seeing a goal-bound strike blocked by Craig Cathcart.

Ward and Washington both went close to respective second goals with around 20 minutes remaining, before Norway substitute Adama Diomande headed straight at McGovern.

The Northern Ireland goalkeeper was forced into a fine save moments later, getting down low to parry away Havard Nordtveit's free-kick.

A late glut of Norway pressure saw King again bring a save out of McGovern, but Northern Ireland held firm with relative ease to claim the points.

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Patric Ridge