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5 things we learned from Northern Ireland's victory over Azerbaijan

Published 12/11/2016

Kyle Lafferty set Northern Ireland on their way to a comfortable victory
Kyle Lafferty set Northern Ireland on their way to a comfortable victory

Northern Ireland thrashed Azerbaijan 4-0 at Windsor Park on Friday night to take control in the race for second place in their World Cup qualifying group.

Goals from Kyle Lafferty, Gareth McAuley and Conor McLaughlin were cemented by a late effort credited to Chris Brunt, though Steven Davis may have got the decisive touch, as Michael O'Neill's men moved above the previously unbeaten Azeris and into second in Group C after four fixtures.

Here, Press Association Sport breaks down what emerged from a wet and wild night at Windsor.

BRUNT COMES BACK WITH A BANG

Whether Brunt should be awarded a first international goal in seven years remains unclear, though captain Davis was only too happy for him to claim the honour after a fine return in a green shirt. It had been 13 months since Brunt last appeared for Northern Ireland, with a serious knee injury sidelining him at Euro 2016, and he certainly made up for lost time. He had to overcome sustaining a head injury in the earlier stages but the delivery from a free-kick for McAuley's goal prior to the break was vintage Brunt.

SET-PIECE SPECIALISTS ONCE MORE

Brunt's comeback also helped strengthen the Northern Irish at dead-ball scenarios and it was via such methods where Azerbaijan were undone on three occasions. The opening goal came from a long Josh Magennis throw before Brunt's free-kick was turned in by McAuley and Oliver Norwood's second-half corner was nodded home by McLaughlin. Such opportunities were a source of multiple goals in the qualification campaign for France and are already proving critical again on the route to Russia.

WINDSOR PARK REMAINS A HAPPY HUNTING GROUND

Such is Northern Ireland's impressive record in Belfast, their Windsor Park home has been completely redeveloped since they last lost there. That was a 4-2 reverse to Portugal in 2013, a night often cited as a turning point for the likes of Lafferty and others, and this victory was their second straight 4-0 success after last month's hammering of San Marino. O'Neill's outfit are now unbeaten in their most recent 10 home games, winning eight of them and scoring 21 while conceding just three times.

IN CHARGE IN THE HUNT FOR SECOND

Northern Ireland's Chris Brunt scores during this evening's game at The National Stadium Windsor Park Azerbaijan. Photo Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Northern Ireland's Chris Brunt scores during this evening's game at The National Stadium Windsor Park Azerbaijan. Photo Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Northern Ireland's Conor McLaughlin celebrates his goal during this evenings game at the National Stadium, Belfast. Photo by David Maginnis/Pacemaker Press
Northern Ireland's Chris Brunt celebrates. Photographer - © William Cherry / Press Eye
Northern Ireland's Chris Brunt scores during this evenings game at The National Stadium Windsor Park. Photo Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Northern Ireland's Chris Brunt scores during this evenings game at The National Stadium Windsor Park. Photo Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Northern Ireland v Azerbaijan - World Cup Qualifier Northern Ireland's Gareth McAuley celebrates his goal during this evening's game at the National Stadium, Belfast. Photo by David Maginnis/Pacemaker Press
Press Eye - Northern Ireland - 11th November 2016 Northern Ireland v Azerbaijan - World Cup Qualifier at the National Football Stadium at Windsor Park. Northern Irelands Kyle Lafferty celebrates scoring. Photographer - © Jonathan Porter / Press Eye
Northern Ireland's Conor McLaughlin celebrates his goal during this evening's game at the National Stadium, Belfast. Photo by David Maginnis/Pacemaker Press
Northern Ireland's Conor McLaughlin scores his goal during this evening's game at the National Stadium, Belfast. Photo by David Maginnis/Pacemaker Press
Northern Ireland's Conor McLaughlin celebrates his goal during this evenings game at the National Stadium, Belfast. Photo by David Maginnis/Pacemaker Press
Northern Ireland v Azerbaijan World Cup 2018 Qualifier Northern Ireland's Gareth McAuley scores during this evenings game at The National Stadium Windsor Park. Photo Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Northern Ireland v Azerbaijan World Cup 2018 Qualifier Northern Ireland's Gareth McAuley scores during this evenings game at The National Stadium Windsor Park. Photo Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Northern Ireland's Gareth McAuley scores during this evenings game at The National Stadium Windsor Park. Photo Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Northern Ireland v Azerbaijan World Cup 2018 Qualifier Northern Ireland's Gareth McAuley scores during this evenings game at The National Stadium Windsor Park. Photo Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Northern Ireland's Kyle Lafferty scores during this evenings game at The National Stadium Windsor Park. Photo Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Northern Ireland's Kyle Lafferty celebrates scoring against Azerbaijan during Friday nights World Cup Qualifier at the National Stadium at Windsor Park. Photo by William Cherry
Northern Ireland's Kyle Lafferty celebrates scoring against Azerbaijan during Friday nights World Cup Qualifier at the National Stadium at Windsor Park. Photo by William Cherry
Northern Ireland's Josh Magennis with Azerbaijan's Arif Dashdemirov during Friday nights World Cup Qualifier at the National Stadium at Windsor Park. Photo by William Cherry
Northern Ireland's Josh Magennis with Azerbaijan's Emin Makhmudov during Friday nights World Cup Qualifier at the National Stadium at Windsor Park. Photo by William Cherry
Northern Ireland's Kyle Lafferty celebrates scoring against Azerbaijan during Friday nights World Cup Qualifier at the National Stadium at Windsor Park. Photo by William Cherry
Northern Ireland's Chris Brunt during Friday nights World Cup Qualifier at the National Stadium at Windsor Park.Photo by William Cherry
Northern Ireland's Chris Brunt during Friday nights World Cup Qualifier at the National Stadium at Windsor Park. Photo by William Cherry
Pacemaker Belfast 11-11-16 Northern Ireland v Azerbaijan - World Cup Qualifier Northern Ireland's Shane Ferguson and Azerbaijan Maksim Medvedev during this evenings game at the National Stadium, Belfast. Photo by David Maginnis/Pacemaker Press
Pacemaker Belfast 11-11-16 Northern Ireland v Azerbaijan - World Cup Qualifier Northern Ireland's Steven Davis and Azerbaijan Gara Garayev during this evenings game at the National Stadium, Belfast. Photo by David Maginnis/Pacemaker Press
Pacemaker Belfast 11-11-16 Northern Ireland v Azerbaijan - World Cup Qualifier Northern Ireland's Steven Davis and Azerbaijan Gara Garayev during this evenings game at the National Stadium, Belfast. Photo by David Maginnis/Pacemaker Press
Pacemaker Belfast 11-11-16 Northern Ireland v Azerbaijan - World Cup Qualifier Northern Ireland's Steven Davis and Azerbaijan Gara Garayev during this evenings game at the National Stadium, Belfast. Photo by David Maginnis/Pacemaker Press
Pacemaker Belfast 11-11-16 Northern Ireland v Azerbaijan - World Cup Qualifier Northern Ireland's Gareth McAuley scores his goal during this evenings game at the National Stadium, Belfast. Photo by David Maginnis/Pacemaker Press
Pacemaker Belfast 11-11-16 Northern Ireland v Azerbaijan - World Cup Qualifier Northern Ireland's Gareth McAuley celebrates his goal during this evenings game at the National Stadium, Belfast. Photo by David Maginnis/Pacemaker Press
Pacemaker Belfast 11-11-16 Northern Ireland v Azerbaijan - World Cup Qualifier Northern Ireland's Gareth McAuley celebrates his goal during this evenings game at the National Stadium, Belfast. Photo by David Maginnis/Pacemaker Press
Pacemaker Belfast 11-11-16 Northern Ireland v Azerbaijan - World Cup Qualifier Northern Ireland's Gareth McAuley celebrates his goal during this evenings game at the National Stadium, Belfast. Photo by David Maginnis/Pacemaker Press
Pacemaker Belfast 11-11-16 Northern Ireland v Azerbaijan - World Cup Qualifier Northern Ireland's Gareth McAuley celebrates his goal during this evenings game at the National Stadium, Belfast. Photo by David Maginnis/Pacemaker Press
Pacemaker Belfast 11-11-16 Northern Ireland v Azerbaijan - World Cup Qualifier Northern Ireland's Gareth McAuley celebrates his goal during this evenings game at the National Stadium, Belfast. Photo by David Maginnis/Pacemaker Press
Northern Ireland's Kyle Lafferty and Azerbaijan Afran Ismayilov during this evenings game at the National Stadium, Belfast. Photo by David Maginnis/Pacemaker Press
Northern Ireland's Gareth McAuley and Azerbaijan Afran Ismayilov during this evening's game at the National Stadium, Belfast. Photo by David Maginnis/Pacemaker Press
Northern Ireland v Azerbaijan - World Cup Qualifier Northern Ireland's Josh Magennis and Azerbaijan Ramil Sheydayev during this evening's game at the National Stadium, Belfast. Photo by David Maginnis/Pacemaker Press
Northern Ireland's Conor McLaughlin in action with Azerbaijan's Ruslan Gurbanov. Northern Ireland v Azerbaijan - World Cup Qualifier at the National Football Stadium at Windsor Park. Photographer - © Jonathan Porter / Press Eye
Northern Ireland Kyle Lafferty scores the opening goal against Azerbaijan during Friday night's World Cup Qualifier at the National Football Stadium at Windsor Park. Picture by Brian Little/Press Eye
Northern Ireland v Azerbaijan - World Cup Qualifier at the National Football Stadium at Windsor Park. Northern Ireland's Gareth McAuley in action with Azerbaijan's Ramil Sheydaev. Photographer - © Jonathan Porter / Press Eye
Northern Ireland's Chris Brunt during this evenings game at the National Stadium, Belfast. Photo by David Maginnis/Pacemaker Press
Pacemaker Belfast 11-11-16 Northern Ireland v Azerbaijan - World Cup Qualifier Northern Ireland's Steven Davis and Azerbaijan Rahid Amirguliyev during this evenings game at the National Stadium, Belfast. Photo by David Maginnis/Pacemaker Press
Pacemaker Belfast 11-11-16 Northern Ireland v Azerbaijan - World Cup Qualifier Northern Ireland's Kyle Lafferty and Azerbaijan Badavi Guseynov during this evenings game at the National Stadium, Belfast. Photo by David Maginnis/Pacemaker Press
Pacemaker Belfast 11-11-16 Northern Ireland v Azerbaijan - World Cup Qualifier Northern Ireland's Josh Magennis and Azerbaijan Ramil Sheydayev during this evenings game at the National Stadium, Belfast. Photo by David Maginnis/Pacemaker Press
Northern Ireland's Chris Brunt during this evenings game at the National Stadium, Belfast. Photo by David Maginnis/Pacemaker Press
Northern Ireland's Chris Brunt during this evenings game at the National Stadium, Belfast. Photo by David Maginnis/Pacemaker Press
Northern Ireland Shane Ferguson and Azerbaijan Kamran Agayev during Friday night's World Cup Qualifier at the National Football Stadium at Windsor Park. Picture by Brian Little/Press Eye
Northern Ireland and Azerbaijan players line up at the centre circle as the fans hold up cards to reveal a poppy as they mark Armistice Day during Friday nights World Cup Qualifier at the National Stadium at Windsor Park.
Northern Ireland and Azerbaijan players line up at the centre circle as the fans hold up cards to reveal a poppy as they mark Armistice Day during Friday nights World Cup Qualifier at the National Stadium at Windsor Park. Photo by William Cherry
Northern Ireland and Azerbaijan players line up at the centre circle as the fans hold up cards to reveal a poppy as they mark Armistice Day during Friday nights World Cup Qualifier at the National Stadium at Windsor Park. Photo by William Cherry
World Cup Qualifier - Northern Ireland Vs Azerbaijan at the National Stadium at Windsor Park. The teams line up at the start of the match. Picture by Jonathan Porter/Press Eye.
World Cup Qualifier - Northern Ireland Vs Azerbaijan at the National Stadium at Windsor Park. Northern Ireland line up at the start of the match. Picture by Jonathan Porter/Press Eye.
World Cup Qualifier - Northern Ireland Vs Azerbaijan at the National Stadium at Windsor Park. Wreath laying and one minutes silence at the start of the match in remembrance of Armistice day. Picture by Jonathan Porter/Press Eye.
World Cup Qualifier - Northern Ireland Vs Azerbaijan at the National Stadium at Windsor Park. Wreath laying and one minutes silence at the start of the match in remembrance of Armistice day. Picture by Jonathan Porter/Press Eye.
World Cup Qualifier - Northern Ireland Vs Azerbaijan at the National Stadium at Windsor Park. Wreath laying and one minutes silence at the start of the match in remembranceof Armistice day. Picture by Jonathan Porter/Press Eye.
World Cup Qualifier - Northern Ireland Vs Azerbaijan at the National Stadium at Windsor Park. Wreath laying and one minutes silence at the start of the match in remembrance of Armistice day. Picture by Jonathan Porter/Press Eye.
World Cup Qualifier - Northern Ireland Vs Azerbaijan at the National Stadium at Windsor Park. Wreath laying and one minutes silence at the start of the match in remembrance of Armistice day. Picture by Jonathan Porter/Press Eye.
Northern Ireland fans Simon and Davy McGrew George and Sophie McCrory from Omagh during Friday night's World Cup Qualifier against Azerbaijan at the National Football Stadium at Windsor Park. Picture by Brian Little/Press Eye
Northern Ireland fans Shauna and Cameron Jackson during Friday night's World Cup Qualifier against Azerbaijan at the National Football Stadium at Windsor Park. Picture by Brian Little/Press Eye
Northern Ireland fan Dorothy Gibson from Lisburn during Friday night's World Cup Qualifier against Azerbaijan at the National Football Stadium at Windsor Park. Picture by Brian Little/Press Eye
Northern Ireland fans Heather, Dorothy, Mark, Raymond Gibson and Stephen Lockhart from Lisburn during Friday night's World Cup Qualifier against Azerbaijan at the National Football Stadium at Windsor Park. Picture by Brian Little/Press Eye
Northern Ireland fans Chris and Mervyn Mark from Hillsborough during Friday night's World Cup Qualifier against Azerbaijan at the National Football Stadium at Windsor Park. Picture by Brian Little/Press Eye
Northern Ireland fans George and Sophie McCrory from Omagh during Friday night's World Cup Qualifier against Azerbaijan at the National Football Stadium at Windsor Park. Picture by Brian Little/Press Eye
Northern Ireland fans Drydan, Ian and Dyyden Wilson from Newtownards during Friday night's World Cup Qualifier against Azerbaijan at the National Football Stadium at Windsor Park. Picture by Brian Little/Press Eye
Northern Ireland fans Naomi and Norman Fox from Magheralin at the National Football Stadium at Windsor Park for the match against Azerbaijan during Friday night's World Cup Qualifier.Picture by Brian Little/Press Eye

The Green and White Army cheekily suggested their countrymen would end up finishing top of the group come its conclusion, some statement given holders Germany's march to Russia included an 8-0 annihilation of San Marino on Friday. The best O'Neill's team can hope for is a runners-up berth and a likely play-off tie as a result. Norway, the Czech Republic and Azerbaijan would all have harboured belief they could finish in that spot too, but four games in O'Neill's team hold all the cards.

McLAUGHLIN BACK TO HIS BEST

O'Neill made three changes and one of those saw right-back McLaughlin restored despite Lee Hodson's impressive performance in that role in Germany last month. The Fleetwood defender responded with a terrific display, forging a fine partnership down the right with converted winger Josh Magennis, and he capped the night off with his maiden international goal midway through the second period. Fleetwood can consider themselves fortunate a player of such quality remains in the third tier of English football, while those above them in the ladder should be considering a January swoop.

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