Belfast Telegraph

Five things we learned from Northern Ireland's win in Azerbaijan

Just how significant could that Stuart Dallas goal prove?

By Gareth Hanna

It just looked like it wasn't going to be, we'd all settled ourselves in the knowledge that a point was still a good result. But then...

1. Stuart Dallas has impeccable timing

And a perfect touch. What you don't think he meant to let it run away from him a little bit? Nonsense. Watch the last few minutes of that match and you'll know that everything is going for Northern Ireland at the minute. It was all Azerbaijan. A couple of warning shots then some good defending between McLaughlin and McGovern ensured the hosts didn't go ahead.

But everyone seemed resigned to a point. Even the boss brought off first half substitute Niall McGinn to bring on defender Lee Hodson. He was happy with a point, we were happy with a point. But Stuart Dallas wasn't. Only his second goal for Northern Ireland and the 26 year-old couldn't quite have picked a better time to do it. Special mention too for Jonny Evans - what a ball. More composure than your average centre-half in that position.

2. Chris Brunt has an absolute wand of a left foot

So that's nothing we didn't know before but it was underlined yet again, particularly during the first half. An early corner set up Jonny Evans to head over then another long ball was perfect for Liam Boyce to send an effort just wide.

But it was Brunt's curling cross in the closing minutes of the first period that lit up what was, for the most part, a dreary affair in Baku. It took out absolutely everybody and sent Liam Boyce and Josh Magennis both sprawling on the ground like toddlers throwing tantrums. If one of them had made contact, it was a sure goal. Just beautiful.

Have a look back at our live updates of the game: Azerbaijan 0-1 Northern Ireland live: Stuart Dallas nets an injury-time goal in Baku

3. Northern Ireland are a defensive dream right now

Northern Ireland have now kept six clean sheets in their last eight matches, conceding to only Germany and Croatia, and that was only in a friendly. The world champions are the only team to score against Michael O'Neill's men in the six games of this World Cup qualifying campaign so far. That's just ridiculous.

Alright, so Azerbaijan could and probably should have got themselves on the score-sheet this evening, but they didn't, and Northern Ireland deserved the fortune of a poor finish or two. Despite being largely unworked, goalkeeper Michael McGovern was alert to the few shots he faced, and Conor McLaughlin showed a lot of defensive knowledge when he edged out an attacker moments before Dallas struck.

4. Playground rules suit our boys down to the ground

Sky Sports summariser Gerry Armstrong wrote the script, and Stuart Dallas took his cue with a seasoned performer's impeccable timing (see point one). A matter of seconds before the ball was dispatched into the back of the net, Armstrong said: "It's goal the winner now." I remember in primary school, every time that was shouted, there was aways a goal within a few moments. Dallas must have heard him - boy did he respond to the pressure.

5. The GAWA were loud and proud as ever

Watching over the televisual device, our boys did themselves proud in the stand, as we've come to expect. They even sang Green and White Army for 'a good five minutes' at the start of the second half. Breathless. We all were come the final whistle.

Bring on your San Marino. They're next up for Northern Ireland - away on September 1. Can you wait until then? I can't.

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