Belfast Telegraph

Steven Beacom: Let’s put the win back in Windsor

Think Windsor Park and memories of famous victories spring to mind.

England, Spain, Sweden, Denmark and Poland have arrived in Belfast in recent times confident of winning, only to be sent away shell-shocked at the deafening noise of the crowd, the insatiable desire of the home players and ultimately the result itself.

It's quite a surprise then that it is now TWO years since Northern Ireland won a match at Windsor Park.

Five games have come and gone without success.

Fortress Windsor? Not exactly.

To be fair, in those five games against Israel, Slovakia, Serbia, Italy and Morocco, three have been draws.

Still, it really is about time we put the win back into Windsor, starting tomorrow night when Slovenia are the visitors in the latest European Championship qualifier.

After losing to Serbia 2-1 on Friday, victory in the Group C clash has to be achieved to get Northern Ireland's Euro 2012 finals dream back on track.

And as fate would have it, the last team that our boys defeated on home turf was... Slovenia.

That was on April Fools Day in a World Cup qualifier, when Warren Feeney scored the only goal of the game, giving Nigel Worthington's side their fourth victory on the trot in competitive internationals.

Four days previously at Windsor, Feeney had scored against Poland in a 3-2 victory in which the then Celtic goalkeeper Artur Boruc self destructed amid a ferocious atmosphere inside the old stadium.

Warren's winner against Slovenia came in the 73rd minute, a brilliant glancing header in front of the Kop, described by Feeney's strike partner that night David Healy as “one of the best headed goals ever seen at Windsor”.

It was a magical moment for the man known as Feeno, one of the most patriotic players you will ever meet.

How he would love the chance to repeat that amazing feat tomorrow night.

Surely he will get it with Kyle Lafferty out injured and Healy suspended.

However, given Worthington's shock team selection for the Serbian game, which almost came off, the Oldham Athletic forward won't be counting his chickens.

As always though he is ready, willing and able to sweat blood and tears for the cause.

“I'd love to play and I'll give it my all if I'm called upon,” said Feeney, who is in line to win his 40th cap.

“Obviously the last time we played Slovenia at Windsor it was a great night for me and the team. We'd all settle for the same result.”

With Healy and Lafferty already back in Glasgow, 30-year-old Feeney is far and away the most experienced striker left in the squad.

He's capable of playing as a lone front man with Chris Brunt playing behind him, just as the West Brom star did with Lafferty in Belgrade.

It was interesting to note though that when Lafferty was injured at half-time, Worthington turned first to Healy, who had looked sharp in training, to replace his fellow Rangers striker, only bringing Feeney on late in the fray with the visitors trailing 2-1.

The manager could elect to switch from the 4-4-1-1 Serbian formation to 4-4-2 in Belfast.

Either way Feeney, who has scored five international goals, won't be bothered.

Getting on the pitch is what matters to him.

Possible partners if it's 4-4-2 include Werder Bremen's 19-year-old Liam Boyce, who would be making his debut if chosen — they'll be cheering at his old club Cliftonville if that happens — or Millwall's Josh McQuoid (21), called into the squad yesterday.

The highly-rated McQuoid won his only cap to date in November's friendly against Morocco.

Another option is to use the versatile Paddy McCourt, such an exciting player on his day, alongside Feeney.

There's something wonderfully unpredictable about the thought of combining that duo's panache and passion, but even for Worthington and his bold choices in the last game it may be a step too far.

The selections of youngsters Corry Evans (20) and Johnny Gorman (18) on the flanks raised eyebrows in Belgrade.

To the manager's credit though and that of the players themselves, they performed well until, like many of their team-mates, they faded in the last third of the game.

Incidentally both finished the corresponding fixture in Slovenia at the start of the campaign, after coming on as substitutes in the magnificent 1-0 victory in Maribor — Evans scored the winner with his first touch.

There is the more experienced Niall McGinn and Grant McCann, who has played well against Slovenia before, to consider though Worthington may keep faith with the kids, who would be helped by the calming influence of Chris Baird and Sammy Clingan in the centre of midfield.

Defensively you would think that Stephen Craigan would be a straight replacement for the injured Aaron Hughes, fitting in beside Gareth McAuley, who scored and excelled in Serbia, with Craig Cathcart and Jonny Evans once again operating as full-backs.

Don't be surprised though if the boss pulls another rabbit out of the hat.

No one will care as long as Northern Ireland emerge triumphant, and get that winning feeling back in Belfast.

Home’s not so sweet

It has been five matches since Northern Ireland tasted victory on their home turf at Windsor Park. Here Stuart McKinley looks back at that unwelcome nap hand.

November 17 2010, Friendly: Northern Ireland 1 (Patterson, 86 mins pen) Morocco 1 (Chamakh 55mins)

A vastly inexperienced Northern Ireland side recorded a creditable draw with Morocco, thanks to Rory Patterson’s penalty in the closing minutes.

Three players — Lee Hodson, Adam Barton and Josh McQuoid — made their debuts and it’s likely to be the last time Barton pulls on a Northern Ireland shirt having since been called up to the Republic of Ireland’s Under-21 squad.

October 8 2010, Euro 2012 Qualifier: Northern Ireland 0 Italy 0

Over a year since the last competitive game at Windsor Park, Italy arrived for their first visit to Belfast in more than 40 years.

David Healy’s first-half header, which bounced just the wrong side of the post, was as close to scoring as Northern Ireland came, but the Italians didn’t produce any heart-stopping moments.

If anything Northern Ireland were slightly disappointed with a point.

November 14 2009, Friendly: Northern Ireland 0 Serbia 1 (Lazovic 57 mins)

For only the second time in his international career David Healy was left out of the starting line-up — although it’s become more and more common an occurence since.

The Serbs — who were preparing for the World Cup — were slick and ran out as comfortable 1-0 winners.

September 9 2009, World Cup 2012 Qualifier: Northern Ireland 0 Slovakia 2 (Sestak 15 mins, Holosko 66 mins)

Northern Ireland’s World Cup qualifying hopes went up in smoke with this 2-0 defeat. Slovakia were big, strong and clinical and were deserved winners.

August 12 2009, Friendly: Northern Ireland 1 (McCann 18) Israel 1 (Barda 26)

Northern Ireland’s record of scoring from set pieces has been poor, but Grant McCann pulled out a great left-foot strike to open the scoring in this one. Israel’s quick passing game got them an equaliser within eight minutes and both teams left happy with the result.

April 1 2009, World Cup 2010 Qualifier: Northern Ireland 1 (Feeney 73 mins) Slovenia 0

A great five days for Northern Ireland ended with a hard fought 1-0 win over Slovenia — who had won 2-0 in Maribor five months earlier. Warren Feeney had been among the scorers in a 3-2 victory over Poland in the first game of this double header and he nodded home a Sammy Clingan cross to claim a victory when it looked like Nigel Worthington’s men would have to settle for a draw.

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