Belfast Telegraph

Steven Davis fires Northern Ireland to victory at Windsor Park

Northern Ireland 1 - 0 Latvia

By Adrian Rutherford

Steven Davis fired Northern Ireland to their first friendly win in more than seven years as they ended a memorable year in style.

The midfielder struck early in the second half to secure victory against Latvia at a chilly Windsor Park.

Their last friendly win had come against Georgia all the way back in March 2008.

Davis had scored twice in last month’s 3-1 win over Greece, which sealed Northern Ireland’s place at Euro 2016.

And he was the hero tonight, slotting home after his initial header had been saved.

Davis, named the sponsors’ man of the match, departed late on to a standing ovation.

The game was a lacklustre affair, but the 11,707 who braved the cold November air at least had a win to celebrate.

This was Northern Ireland’s final game of the year, and it was a fitting way to sign off 2015.

The next big date for fans is December 12, when the draw for Euro 2016 takes place.

This may have been a largely meaningless friendly against mediocre opposition, but Windsor Park was rocking once again.

These are heady times for Northern Ireland fans, who are already making plans for France.

Boss Michael O’Neill’s line-up included the heroes who secured qualification for a first tournament in 30 years.

Jonny Evans was back in central defence having missed the last two qualifiers through injury.

A new-look 3-5-2 formation saw Jamie Ward partnered up front with Lafferty, whose seven goals were a major factor in qualification.

Kitted out in their new green and blue jerseys, Northern Ireland created a series of attempts on the visitors’ goal.

Inside the opening two minutes Stuart Dallas had a crack from outside the box but the ball flashed over.

Ward tested goalkeeper Andris Vanins, who did well to palm his shot from outside the box clear of the bottom left-hand corner.

After 14 minutes a terrific ball from Davis picked out Ward. The angle was difficult but he caught it well, forcing Vanins to intervene.

Conor McLaughlin was getting forward to good effect in the opening stages, and a run and cross caused chaos in the visitors’ defence in the 19th minute.

The ball rebounded off Vitalijs Maksimenko and spun towards the Latvian defender’s own net, but Vanins was alert to the danger.

The home side went close again on the half hour after a neat passage of play.

A clever pass from Oliver Norwood released Dallas down the left side and he cut the ball back for Davis, whose low drive was well read by the ‘keeper.

A minute later Davis turned provider with a superb pass over the top to release Lafferty, only for the striker to drag a low shot wide of the far post.

It was the best chance of the game so far - and he really should have hit the target.

Just before the break Lafferty won a free-kick outside the box. Norwood curled the ball in but Evans couldn't direct his header on target.

O’Neill brought on Roy Carroll and Corry Evans for the second half.

And Lafferty went close to opening the deadlock soon after the restart. He did well to work space inside the box, but his left-footed shot was blocked.

The deadlock was broken in the 55th minute.

A cross from Craig Cathcart picked out Davis. His initial header was stopped by the goalkeeper but he slotted home the rebound with a left-foot strike from close range.

A match which never quite took off dipped further in quality as both sides made a series of substitutions.

Latvia seldom threatened and late on Artjoms Rudnevs saw a right-footed shot go wide.

Teams:

N IRELAND: McGovern (Carroll, 46), Cathcart, McAuley, J Evans, McLaughlin, Baird, Davis (McCourt, 83), Dallas (Ferguson, 69), Norwood (C Evans, 46), Ward (Boyce, 69), Lafferty (Magennis, 54)

Subs not used: McGinn, McKay, Hodson, Mannus

LATVIA: Vanins (Steinbors, 74), Kurakins, Laizans (Ikaunieks, 78), Gabovs, A Visnakovs (Rudnevs, 59), E Visnakovs (Sabala, 71), Gorkss, Rakels, Tarasovs, Zjuzins, Maksimenko

Subs not used: Jagodinskis, Kamess

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