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Better late than never as Lafferty's strike keeps Northern Ireland finals dream alive

Northern Ireland 1-1 Hungary

By Steven Beacom

Published 08/09/2015

Northern Ireland's Kyle Lafferty celebrates scoring his side's first goal of the game during the UEFA European Championship Qualifying match at Windsor Park, Belfast. Photo: Liam McBurney/PA
Northern Ireland's Kyle Lafferty celebrates scoring his side's first goal of the game during the UEFA European Championship Qualifying match at Windsor Park, Belfast. Photo: Liam McBurney/PA
Northern Ireland's Kyle Lafferty (second right) celebrates scoring his side's first goal of the game during the UEFA European Championship Qualifying match at Windsor Park, Belfast. Photo: Liam McBurney/PA Wire
Northern Ireland's Kyle Lafferty and Hungary's Tamas Kadar battle for the ball during the UEFA European Championship Qualifying match at Windsor Park, Belfast. Photo: Niall Carsony/PA Wire
Northern Ireland's Kyle Lafferty (right) during the UEFA European Championship Qualifying match at Windsor Park, Belfast. Photo: Niall Carsony/PA Wire
Kyle Lafferty (L) of Northern Ireland and Attila Fiola (R) of Hungary in action during the Euro 2016 Group F qualifying match at Windsor Park on September 7, 2015 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)
Kyle Lafferty (R) of Northern Ireland just fails to score during the Euro 2016 Group F qualifying match between Northern Ireland and Hungary at Windsor Park on September 7, 2015 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)
Northern Ireland's Kyle Lafferty (right) and Hungary's Attila Fiola during the UEFA European Championship Qualifying match at Windsor Park, Belfast. Photo: Liam McBurney/PA Wire
Northern Ireland's Chris Brunt and Hungary's Attila Fiola battle for the ball during the UEFA European Championship Qualifying match at Windsor Park, Belfast. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Monday September 7, 2015. See PA story SOCCER N Ireland. Photo credit should read: Niall Carsony/PA Wire
Hungary's Richard Guzmics (second left) scores his side's first goal of the game during the UEFA European Championship Qualifying match at Windsor Park, Belfast. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Monday September 7, 2015. See PA story SOCCER N Ireland. Photo credit should read: Niall Carsony/PA Wire
Hungary's Richard Guzmics (centre) scores his side's first goal of the game during the UEFA European Championship Qualifying match at Windsor Park, Belfast. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Monday September 7, 2015. See PA story SOCCER N Ireland. Photo credit should read: Niall Carsony/PA Wire
Northern Ireland's Chris Brunt battles for the ball with Hungary's Zoltan Gera (floor) and Krisztian Nemeth during the UEFA European Championship Qualifying match at Windsor Park, Belfast. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Monday September 7, 2015. See PA story SOCCER N Ireland. Photo credit should read: Liam McBurney/PA Wire
Northern Ireland's Kyle Lafferty (front) and Hungary's Tamas Kadar battle for the ball during the UEFA European Championship Qualifying match at Windsor Park, Belfast. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Monday September 7, 2015. See PA story SOCCER N Ireland. Photo credit should read: Niall Carsony/PA Wire
Northern Ireland's Kyle Lafferty (right) during the UEFA European Championship Qualifying match at Windsor Park, Belfast. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Monday September 7, 2015. See PA story SOCCER N Ireland. Photo credit should read: Niall Carsony/PA Wire
Northern Ireland fans during the UEFA European Championship Qualifying match at Windsor Park, Belfast. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Monday September 7, 2015. See PA story SOCCER N Ireland. Photo credit should read: Niall Carsony/PA Wire
Hungary fans during the UEFA European Championship Qualifying match at Windsor Park, Belfast. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Monday September 7, 2015. See PA story SOCCER N Ireland. Photo credit should read: Niall Carsony/PA Wire
Former Northern Ireland footballer David Healy during the UEFA European Championship Qualifying match at Windsor Park, Belfast. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Monday September 7, 2015. See PA story SOCCER N Ireland. Photo credit should read: Niall Carsony/PA Wire
Northern Ireland's goalkeeper Michael McGovern (R) drops the ball leading to Hungary's defender Richard Guzmics (2nd L) scoring the opening goal during the Euro 2016 qualifying group F football match between Northern Ireland and Hungary at Windsor Park in Belfast on September 7, 2015. AFP PHOTO / MICHAEL COOPERMichael Cooper/AFP/Getty Images
Northern Ireland's striker Stuart Dallas (R) has his shot saved by Hungary's goalkeeper Gabor Kiraly (L) as Hungary's defender Richard Guzmics slides in to block during the Euro 2016 qualifying group F football match between Northern Ireland and Hungary at Windsor Park in Belfast on September 7, 2015. AFP PHOTO / MICHAEL COOPERMichael Cooper/AFP/Getty Images
Northern Ireland's striker Kyle Lafferty (L) vies with Hungary's midfielder Adam Nagy during the Euro 2016 qualifying group F football match between Northern Ireland and Hungary at Windsor Park in Belfast on September 7, 2015. AFP PHOTO / MICHAEL COOPERMichael Cooper/AFP/Getty Images
Northern Ireland's striker Kyle Lafferty (L) vies with Hungary's midfielder Adam Nagy during the Euro 2016 qualifying group F football match between Northern Ireland and Hungary at Windsor Park in Belfast on September 7, 2015. AFP PHOTO / MICHAEL COOPERMichael Cooper/AFP/Getty Images
BELFAST, NORTHERN IRELAND - SEPTEMBER 7: Steve Davis (R) of Northern Ireland and Akos Elek (L) of Hungary during the Euro 2016 Group F qualifying match at Windsor Park on September 7, 2015 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)
BELFAST, NORTHERN IRELAND - SEPTEMBER 7: Northern Ireland footballing legend and all time record goalscorer David Healy (L) gives a thumbs up during the Euro 2016 Group F qualifying match at Windsor Park on September 7, 2015 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)
BELFAST, NORTHERN IRELAND - SEPTEMBER 7: Stuart Dallas (R) of Northern Ireland and Tamas Kadar (L) of Hungary during the Euro 2016 Group F qualifying match at Windsor Park on September 7, 2015 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)
Northern Ireland players during Sundays training session at Windsor Park ahead of Monday nights Euro 2016 Qualifier against Hungary.
Northern Ireland players during Sundays training session at Windsor Park ahead of Monday nights Euro 2016 Qualifier against Hungary.
Hungary manager Bernd Storck during Sundays training session at Windsor Park ahead of Monday nights Euro 2016 Qualifier against Northern Ireland.
Hungary players during Sundays training session at Windsor Park ahead of Monday nights Euro 2016 Qualifier against Northern Ireland.
Hungary players during Sundays training session at Windsor Park ahead of Monday nights Euro 2016 Qualifier against Northern Ireland.
Hungary manager Bernd Storck during Sundays training session at Windsor Park ahead of Monday nights Euro 2016 Qualifier against Northern Ireland.
Northern Ireland's Stuart Dallas during Sundays training session at Windsor Park ahead of Monday nights Euro 2016 Qualifier against Hungary.
Hungary manager Bernd Storck during Sundays training session at Windsor Park ahead of Monday nights Euro 2016 Qualifier against Northern Ireland.
Northern Ireland's Chris Baird during Sundays training session at Windsor Park ahead of Monday nights Euro 2016 Qualifier against Hungary.
Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill (right) at this morning's training session - Hungary awaits. Picture - David Hunter.
Hungary on the horizon as Northern Ireland train at Windsor Park. Picture - David Hunter.

Kyle Lafferty's crusade to take Northern Ireland to the Euro 2016 finals continues. What a hero he has become for the country. He has been stepping up for Northern Ireland all campaign and he was at it again last night.

In injury time. In the nick of time. What a dramatic finish with the home side down to 10 men following Chris Baird's controversial sending off.

Lafferty netted in the 93rd minute to earn a 1-1 draw with Hungary at Windsor Park. It was his seventh goal in Group F and the most important yet keeping Northern Ireland top of the table and critically four points ahead of third placed Hungary with just two games to go.

Remember the top two automatically qualify. Victory at home to Greece next month will see Michael O'Neill's men make it to France.

Alternatively two draws in the final fixtures against the Greeks and away to Finland will do it because Northern Ireland have a better head-to-head record against Hungary, regardless if they win their remaining games.

Let's face it, we would all have taken that position when Northern Ireland's quest to qualify began last year.

It was supposed to be all about the win last night. The one that would see O'Neill's side create history and become the first Northern Ireland team to reach the glamour stages of the European Championships.

In the end the Green and White Army were celebrating a draw like they had just won millions on the lottery.

That's how crucial Lafferty's last-gasp strike was.

Unfortunately he won't be available for the match with Greece after collecting his third booking of the campaign. He is not the only influential player suspended for the Belfast clash on October 8.

Lafferty, Conor McLaughlin and Baird will all be unavailable when the Greeks roll into town.

That will mean big changes in defence, midfield and attack for what will be another massive fixture.

And O'Neill will have a huge call to make in the goalkeeping department as well after Michael McGovern's howler allowed Hungary to score the opening goal of the game.

On 74 minutes McGovern, chosen ahead of fellow Fermanagh man Roy Carroll, allowed Balazs Dzsudzsak's free-kick to drop from his hands, leaving Richard Guzmics with a tap-in.

The goal was timed the same as David Healy's strike to beat England at Windsor Park exactly a decade ago.

Cruel irony.

It was a desperate moment for McGovern, who had performed well when Carroll was injured for June's scoreless draw against Romania and kept his place in Friday night's 3-1 success in the Faroes.

He knows it was an easy catch for a number one of his standard and must have feared that his error was going to see Northern Ireland's hopes of automatic qualification slip through his fingers.

More so when Baird got sent off in the 81st minute for two bookings within seconds of each other.

Euro 2016 Qualifier - Northern Ireland Vs Hungary at Windsor Park, Belfast. Northern Ireland legend David Healy watching the match with fans.
Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye
Euro 2016 Qualifier - Northern Ireland Vs Hungary at Windsor Park, Belfast. Northern Ireland legend David Healy watching the match with fans. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye
J McLorn with his son David at Windsor Park. Pic: J McLorn
Northern Ireland fans during this evenings game at Windsor park. Photo Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker Press
Northern Ireland fans during this evenings game at Windsor park. Photo Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker Press
Northern Ireland's fans during the game at Windsor Park in Belfast. Photo David Maginnis/Pacemaker Press
Northern Ireland's fans during today's game at Windsor Park in Belfast. Photo David Maginnis/Pacemaker Press
Northern Ireland's fans before the game at Windsor Park in Belfast. Photo David Maginnis/Pacemaker Press
Northern Ireland's fans before the game at Windsor Park in Belfast. Photo David Maginnis/Pacemaker Press
Northern Ireland fans George King with twin son's Mason and Christain before the match against Hungary during Monday night's UEFA EURO 2016 Group F Qualifier at the National Football Stadium, Windsor Park, Belfast. Picture by Brian Little/Presseye
Northern Ireland fans (L-R) Charlotte Cummings with her father Paul and sister Zoe from Antrim. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye
Mason King (12) with his father George King, twin brother Christian and Daren Leighton from Donegal Pass. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye
Northern Ireland fans (L-R) Ethan Gibson(14), Lewis Orr-McCauley(16), Mathew Gibson(12), Samantha Orr-McCauley(6) and Grant Orr-McCauley(11). Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye
Northern Ireland v Hungary at Windsor Park, Belfast. Northern Ireland fans Mark Paul with his son Rhys and Gary from Newtownabbey. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye
Northern Ireland fan Daniel Gracey (5) Ballymoney during Monday night's UEFA EURO 2016 Group F Qualifier at the National Football Stadium, Windsor Park, Belfast. Picture by Brian Little/Presseye
Buddy and Mylo watching at home. Photo: Kristine Hill
David McLorn before going to Windsor Park. Photo: J McLorn
Rory Beattie (8 months) getting ready to watch the match. Photo: Linda Taylor
Husband and wife Neil and Lorainne Fentie are looking forward to the big match against Hungary at Windsor Park. Picture Matt Bohill.
Northern Ireland fans Matthew Kernaghan, James Abraham, Ryan Blakely and Ben Speers cant wait for the big match at Windsor Park. Photo: Matt Bohill Pacemaker Press.
Little Jake Quinn who is to lead out the Hungarian national team at Windsor Park cheers on Northern Ireland on top of his dad Graham Quinn's shoulders. Picture Matt Bohill Pacemaker Press.
Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill ahead of the match against Hungary during Monday night's UEFA EURO 2016 Group F Qualifier at the National Football Stadium, Windsor Park, Belfast. Picture by Brian Little/Presseye
Northern Ireland Niall McGinn, Stuart Dallas and Josh Magennis ahead of the match against Hungary during Monday night's UEFA EURO 2016 Group F Qualifier at the National Football Stadium, Windsor Park, Belfast. Picture by Brian Little/Presseye
Northern Ireland players during Sundays training session at Windsor Park ahead of Monday nights Euro 2016 Qualifier against Hungary.
Northern Ireland players during Sundays training session at Windsor Park ahead of Monday nights Euro 2016 Qualifier against Hungary.
Hungary manager Bernd Storck during Sundays training session at Windsor Park ahead of Monday nights Euro 2016 Qualifier against Northern Ireland.
Hungary players during Sundays training session at Windsor Park ahead of Monday nights Euro 2016 Qualifier against Northern Ireland.
Hungary players during Sundays training session at Windsor Park ahead of Monday nights Euro 2016 Qualifier against Northern Ireland.
Hungary manager Bernd Storck during Sundays training session at Windsor Park ahead of Monday nights Euro 2016 Qualifier against Northern Ireland.
Northern Ireland's Stuart Dallas during Sundays training session at Windsor Park ahead of Monday nights Euro 2016 Qualifier against Hungary.
Hungary manager Bernd Storck during Sundays training session at Windsor Park ahead of Monday nights Euro 2016 Qualifier against Northern Ireland.
Northern Ireland's Chris Baird during Sundays training session at Windsor Park ahead of Monday nights Euro 2016 Qualifier against Hungary.
Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill (right) at this morning's training session - Hungary awaits. Picture - David Hunter.
Hungary on the horizon as Northern Ireland train at Windsor Park. Picture - David Hunter.

Turkish referee Cuneyt Cakir, who had earlier cautioned Lafferty and McLaughlin to rule them out of the Greece game, showed yellow to Baird first for an off the ball challenge in Hungary's half and then the same colour for an on the ball foul in Northern Ireland's.

Much to the anger and frustration of the Northern Ireland fans Cakir couldn't get the red out of his pocket quick enough and Baird had to go.

After the match O'Neill questioned the actual ruling of the decision.

As Baird wandered into the dressing room his manager, on the touchline, was looking at a nightmare scenario rather than the dream ending he had been hoping for.

Northern Ireland were losing the match, had lost vital players for their next game and were losing their discipline.

All this after a promising first half in which Stuart Dallas excelled. He was dancing around defenders with the balance of a Strictly professional.

The Leeds winger had the fans out of their seats on a number of occasions with his vibrant display.

All that was lacking was the final ball.

In the second period the visitors were much improved and looked sure to run out victorious until you know who struck to send Windsor Park wild.

Substitute Niall McGinn had a shot saved and Lafferty pounced. Northern Ireland are still on the road to France.

Belfast Telegraph

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