Belfast Telegraph

Conor Washington's starter for 10 as Northern Ireland continue unbeaten record

By Steven Beacom

Northern Ireland new boy Conor Washington described his winning goal against Slovenia as a 'fairytale' after booking his place in the Euro 2016 squad on an historic night at Windsor Park.

Washington's brilliant first half strike on his home debut and a superb Roy Carroll penalty save after the break secured a 1-0 friendly victory over the Slovenians and extended Northern Ireland's unbeaten run to 10 games, beating the previous record set by Billy Bingham's legendary sides in the 80s.

The QPR forward and one time postman, who can now look forward to being named in the Euro squad by manager Michael O'Neill, said: "It doesn't get much better than that. It is a fairytale. It has to be one of the highlights of my career so far, without a doubt. Playing at Windsor Park for the first time was a great experience.

"It is one of the best atmospheres I have ever experienced, and that's with only three of the four stands open. Hopefully I get to experience it many times."

Washington added: “I really enjoyed everything about the night. As a striker you want to score goals, and I managed to do that.

“I had another good chance to score but the goalkeeper saved it. I could maybe have teed up Wardy (Jamie Ward) but I went myself.

“I just worked hard and tried to fit into the team.”

Quizzed on a incredible reception he received when coming off the pitch to be substituted, the former Peterborough striker, who moved to QPR in January, said he was blown away by the noise.

“The reception when I came off was fantastic. I could have played another 45 minutes when I heard that — it was incredible. I have to say it was a real joy to play at the stadium,” stated the 23-year-old, who started his career at non-league St Ives.

“It is great being part of the Northern Ireland set-up. They are an unbelievable set of lads.

“Even the Premier League lads are so humble and helped me fit into the squad. I think it shows in performances like that — everyone fights tooth and nail for everyone else.”

Washington was modest when asked about his goal and man of the match performance guaranteeing his place in France. There is no doubt though he cemented a spot in the Northern Ireland squad for the country’s first major tournament since the 1986 World Cup finals.

It was also a memorable evening for Washington’s pal Michael Smith who played with the frontman at Peterborough.

Several years ago Smith was playing in the Irish League with Ballyclare and Ballymena. Making his international bow was an emotional occasion for him.

“It was amazing to make my debut at Windsor Park — it was everything and more than I ever thought it would be,” said Smith.

“I played here during my Irish League career, but this was another level.

“I was coming here 10 years and supporting the lads, and now I am playing for the team. It was a dream come true.”

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