Belfast Telegraph

UK Website Of The Year

Northern Ireland fans still dream of trip to France, but just not yet

By Ian Cahoon

Just as it has been throughout the campaign Kyle Lafferty is the name on the lips of Northern Ireland fans this morning.

Lafferty's last gasp equaliser rescued an unlikely point for the 10 men and kept fans dreaming of a trip to Fance next summer.

It seemed like the fans' bubble had been burst by Richard Guzmis' second half goal, which was followed by Chris Baird's red card.

The atmosphere was flat going into added time, but the partially developed ground erupted with Lafferty's close- range finish.

In the build-up to last night's game Michael O'Neill and his players had spoken about how much they needed the fans and they responded. The atmosphere created was reminiscent of that now famous night 10 years ago when England, Beckham and all, were humbled in Belfast in a 1-0 defeat.

And once again it was a Northern Ireland striker with the all-important goal.

"Arise Sir Kyle Lafferty!" said Mark Hill from Maghaberry.

"Putting it into perspective, we were guaranteed a play-off spot before we kicked a ball with three games to go. With two games to go, we top the group.

"Coming from the disastrous World Cup campaign, any Northern Ireland fan, player, coach would have snapped your hand for that pre-qualifiers.

"Credit to Hungary, they were extremely difficult to break down all evening and upped the tempo in the second half at the right time.

"Minus Baird, Lafferty and McLaughlin won't be ideal against the Greeks, but we have form players to come in"

Referee Cuneyt Cakir, the same official who controversially sent Nani off in Sir Alex Ferguson's last European game at Old Trafford, also came in for criticism from the crowd after Baird's red card.

"Baird probably made two bad challenges but you never see a player given two yellows for the same phase of play," Carl Winslow said.

"He was fussy all night and threw out yellow cards like they were going out of fashion. Why was it not a sending off for the player lashing out at Gareth McAuley late on?

"We kept plugging away and we showed great character in the circumstances, it was as a good as a win with the way things panned out.

"We're going to go into the Greece game a bit patched up, but again a draw will do us, so that will maybe take the pressure off."

The Hungarians goal was, in large part, due to a mistake from Michael McGovern. Fans had sympathy for the Hamilton stopper, however.

"When McGovern had the ball in his hands and dropped it everyone feared the worst," Alan Burgess said.

"But again, Kyle Lafferty steps up in the last minute and draws the game and keeps Hungary away from us in the group and with Romania drawing it ended up an ok night.

Andrew Scullion, from Millbrook added: "I thought we controlled the game for 70 minutes, it was a very unfortunate way to give away a goal."

"I think to qualify for a major tournament sometimes you have to show guts and desire to get over the line.

"This was maybe the first setback we have had during the campaign but when we went behind the experienced players stood up and were counted.

"I thought Steve Davis had a storming game in the middle of the park and Kyle Lafferty popped up with a priceless goal."

Belfast Telegraph