Cyprus 0 - 0 Northern Ireland: Michael O'Neill's side finish international friendly with goalless draw
Published 05/03/2014 | 19:52
Northern Ireland have drawn with Cyprus during their international away friendly in Nicosia.
Gareth McAuley was sent off in the second half as the sidelaboured to a grim goalless draw at lowly Cyprus.
The trip to Nicosia was seen as an ideal chance for manager Michael O'Neill to register a first away win as boss and end an embarrassing sequence of no goals in away friendlies since 2006.
But his side managed neither, often outplayed by opponents ranked 122nd in the world, and forced to hang on when West Brom defender McAuley was harshly dismissed in the 75th minute for a late tackle on Dimitris Christofi.
Hull defender Alex Bruce and St Johnstone goalkeeper Alan Mannus were handed their first Northern Ireland starts in over a year for the friendly against Cyprus.
The pair last lined up in the first XI in last February's 0-0 draw in Malta but were given another chance to impress by manager Michael O'Neill.
Returning striker Kyle Lafferty, back in the squad for the first time in six months, made do with a place on the bench as Jamie Ward and Martin Paterson got the nod up front.
The fixture had clearly failed to grab the attention of the Nicosia public, with the lure of free entry not enough to tempt more than a scattering of home fans, though the away contingent was impressive in comparison.
The match got off to a suitably low-key start, but Northern Ireland settled into a period of early possession and set about looking for Paterson's runs in attack.
Niall McGinn came closest to finding him when he looked to spring Cyprus' high line, only for an offside flag against Paterson.
Ward found space in the 10th minute and breezed past Charis Kyrakou, but when his cross was headed out to Chris Brunt, the West Brom midfielder's volley was bravely blocked.
Paterson was unlucky in the 12th minute when he rose at the near post to meet McGinn's cross only for home goalkeeper Antonis Giorgallidis to produce a wonderful reaction save.
Northern Ireland invited pressure back on themselves thereafter, Steven Davis and Oliver Norwood both sloppy on the ball as Cyprus countered.
Bruce did well not to take down Dimitris Christofi when he broke into the penalty area and Nestor Mytidis came even closer to an opener soon after, Ryan McGivern tracking back and hacking the ball away from the far post.
Mannus was required to make his first save in the 25th minute, although Christofi was marked well enough to ensure it was a regulation catch rather than anything more taxing.
As the game progressed it was the home side who attacked with greater purpose, Michael O'Neill's men rushing more in possession and hurrying in the final third.
Ward came closest to carving a sight of goal after latching on to McGivern's centre, but he failed to dance through a crowded box.
At the other end Christofi and Kyriakou linked well on the left, with the latter crossing low for Mytidis, who sent a first-time shot just wide.
Northern Ireland were ragged by the 38th minute and were almost prised open by a fine move.
A patient build-up fed the ball to Efstathios Aloneftis, who feigned to shoot before chipping towards the advancing Christofi.
His shot may have been creeping over, but Mannus was in no mood to find out and palmed it over the bar.
INTRO: Northern Ireland ended a goalless first-half against Cyprus firmly on the back foot as they laboured in pursuit of a maiden away win under Michael O'Neill.
Martin Paterson saw his 12th-minute header well saved at the near post, but that was as good as it got as the hosts carved out a series of chances and reached half-time in full control.
Both sides came into the game having won just one of their last 19 internationals, but it was the 122nd-ranked nation who looked likeliest to end that sequence.
O'Neill went to his bench in pursuit of the win, sending on Billy McKay, Paddy McCourt and Shane Ferguson.
But, with 75 minutes gone, it became a salvage job when McAuley was shown a harsh red card.
His challenge on Christofi was clumsy but there was hardly a scoring opportunity on the cards.
McKay was duly replaced by Rory McArdle, having been on the field just 16 minutes, and the stalemate was ensured when Carroll got down well in the last minute to smother Antreas Makris' close-range effort.