Belfast Telegraph

Friday 22 August 2014

Fan-tastic football the major talking point

Fear may have stalked the streets of Katowice and Chorzow but in the end peace broke out.

The beautiful game didn’t turn ugly and football’s image didn’t take a battering like the one it suffered when Poland came to Windsor Park.

The one big regret from the 1-1 draw — other than the nasty knee knock sustained by Kyle Lafferty — was the fact that not more Northern Ireland fans were in the Slaski Stadium to witness their team’s heroics.

Goodness knows, they have seen some horror shows on the road but this was the performance of a team which feels they deserve to be on the world stage.

Gareth McKnight from Newry was delighted with a point which keeps Nigel Worthington’s side on course for South Africa 2010.

“It was a fantastic result – I think most of us would have taken a draw before the kick-off,” he said. “Everyone knew it was going to be a tough game.

“I thought Steve Davis and Gareth McAuley were brilliant but they all performed well. They were always going to come under pressure in the second half but they worked tirelessly.

“A lot of the team are not playing regular full-time football and that doesn’t make their job any easier but they battled hard and played some good football.

“Our away form has not been great but this result and performance shows us what we are capable of.”

Fail to prepare, prepare to fail. Credit is due to the IFA, Amalgamation of Official Northern Ireland Supporters Clubs, the Polish authorities and police for organising travel arrangements.

Inside the stadium the atmosphere was tense and the home fans were in fine voice but the riot cops had an easy night.

Gareth was also relieved there was no trouble surrounding the game following the disturbing scenes in Belfast.

“I thought the reports there could be trouble were completely out of proportion and they did make people think twice about going to the game,” he added. “That is a shame as there were no problems.

“The segregation was good inside the ground and you must give credit to the IFA, Polish police and Polish authorities for making sure fans were not put at risk. There was also a good atmosphere at the fans zone.

“I wasn’t at the Poland game in Belfast but I heard the trouble was caused by a few hooligans who came to the city with that intention.

“It will still be a tall order to qualify. Slovakia will be a tough side and the Czech Republic will have players coming back who can hurt us.

“Kyle (Lafferty) going off injured changed the game and he will be missed.

“We were also fortunate on occasions with balls cleared off the line and they hit the post.”

Brian Thompson from Portadown hailed the first half performance when the players looked comfortable in possession and frustrated the hosts.

“I was expecting Poland to launch everything at us but the defence coped very well and we looked dangerous on the counter attack,” he said.

“I was a bit nervous at the end when they were going for a winner as that would not have been fair on us but hopefully the players can take great confidence from this performance. If we can play like this in Poland, we can play like this in the Czech Republic.

“McAuley at the back was immense, he made so many important clearances I lost count but all the players performed well. The atmosphere was incredible but our boys refused to be intimidated.”

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