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Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Impressive NI beat Lithuania to go third

ART GALLERY

Josh Magennis and Paddy McNair celebrate Northern Ireland’s goal

Northern Ireland moved back up into third in their World Cup qualifying table with a comfortable and much-needed 1-0 home win over Lithuania.

Benas Satkus headed a Paddy McNair corner into his own net to hand the hosts a victory that they thoroughly deserved for a dominant display.

It was a second Group C win in seven games for Ian Baraclough’s side, their first also coming against Lithuania.

Striker Dale Taylor, 17, came off the bench late on to make his NI debut.

Northern Ireland, who go above Bulgaria on goal difference in third, finish their campaign back at Windsor Park against Italy on Monday night.

The European champions will arrive in Belfast still top of the table after drawing with Switzerland on Friday, but needing a win to be sure of topping the group.

For Northern Ireland, though, it will be an opportunity to finish the World Cup campaign on a high after defeat in Switzerland and Bulgaria last month ended their hopes of qualifying for the finals.

Northern Ireland’s goal arrived in the 17th minute when a dangerous inswinging McNair corner from the left was headed into his net at the near post by Satkus.

The visiting defender was under pressure from Josh Magennis and the stadium announcer actually credited the Northern Ireland striker with the goal but it clearly came off Satkus.

Right-wing axis prominent in hosts’ stylish first-half display

Steven Davis
Captain Steven Davis made his 131st Northern Ireland appearance in the 1-0 win

While an own goal, the one-goal half-time lead was no more than Northern Ireland deserved for a first-half display of inventive passing and incisive movement that saw them dominate possession and control the tempo of the game more than they have for some time.

The axis down the right of McNair, Stuart Dallas and the industrious Ali McCann was at the heart of much of their most dangerous attacking play, with McNair having the licence to step out from his role on the right-hand side of the back three.

With Dallas playing high as a right wing-back and McCann full of forward running as ever, they had a number of interchanges in a first half which saw the hosts create multiple chances.

A Shane Ferguson inswinging cross went inches wide of the post early on before Conor Washington fired too close to goalkeeper Ernestas Setkus when in space after a good move down the right.

McCann and Magennis both had goals disallowed, for offside and pushing respectively, while the minute before the break saw Magennis force an excellent low save from Setkus and George Saville fire just wide after excellent footwork and a cross from McNair.

Northern Ireland also had a warning just before the half hour, however, when – with what was their only attack of note in the first half – Justas Lasickas got through on goal and Bailey Peacock-Farrell had to come off his line to make a smart save.

Teenager Taylor makes debut in low-key second half

Dale Taylor
Dale Taylor, 17, was in the senior Northern Ireland squad for the first time

The biggest cheer from the home crowd in a second half that became increasingly disjointed came in the 78th minute when 17-year-old striker Taylor came off the bench to make his senior international debut.

The Nottingham Forest forward, who scored at Windsor as a 15-year-old for Linfield and is yet to make his first-team Forest debut, replaced Magennis. He forced a corner with a positive run and cross the first time he got the ball but did not get a sight of goal in the closing stages.

Lithuania looked a stronger outfit after the break but rarely threatened to score, with Arvydas Novikovas forcing a save from Peacock-Farrell midway through the half in one of their few meaningful attacks.

Northern Ireland’s tempo dropped as the match went on, though Saville and Magennis both had good efforts soon after the break as Baraclough’s men eased their way to three points that will be important to their future co-efficient.

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