In Pictures: Yet another night of abject misery as Northern Ireland lose to Montenegro
Montenegro 2 Northern Ireland 0
If this, together with the 1-0 defeat in Albania, is the appetiser then forgive us for wanting to skip the main course.
Northern Ireland just don’t seem to do friendly matches — they are at their best when their backs are against the wall facing a formidable enemy.
If this is Northern Ireland at their best, then we are pounding a very treacherous road.
The performance was shocking and the only crumb of comfort from a painful night is the reality that this result can be completely forgotten if Nigel Worthington’s side can beat Slovenia in their opening Euro 2012 qualifier in Maribor next month.
Friday, September 3 will be the real judgement night for Northern Ireland. On this evidence, an Italy side recovering from a nasty World Cup hangover will not lose any sleep as they await in the qualifiers.
Northern Ireland need to get tough and ruthless on the road if they want to reach a major tournament for the first time in nearly 25 years.
Montenegro are hardly an international force to be reckoned with but they made their guests look very ordinary.
Two goals from striker Radomir Dalovic inflicted the damage and it could have been much worse.
This Montenegro side aren’t world-beaters — they are new to the international stage but they made Northern Ireland look like an ill-disciplined, frustrated bunch.
Slovenia won’t be getting worried between now and September 3. Worthington now has the job of lifting his players off the canvas after this shattering blow.
Kyle Lafferty was the lone front-runner with wingers Chris Brunt and Martin Paterson asked to get forward in support.
The hosts, more comfortable in the 26 degree heat at pitch level, went looking for the early goal but Vladimir Bozovic’s cross lacked pace and was easily scooped up by goalkeeper Maik Taylor.
Northern Ireland looked solid but they did survive a scare in the 12th minute. A neat passing move in the box presented Mirko Vucinic with the opportunity to pull the trigger but a stunning block from Jonny Evans foiled the skipper.
At the other end Chris Brunt’s shot deflected wide for a corner but Lafferty was given little room to manoeuvre from tough tackling defenders and he was told to cool down by referee Bosko Jovanetic for protesting too much.
At times Northern Ireland were careless in possession and Montenegro looked the more likely to break the deadlock despite lacking the crucial moment of inspiration in the final third.
Steven Davis picked out Sammy Clingan with a clever pass on the edge of the box but Elsad Zverotic stuck out a toe to nick the ball away. But it was the home side who went in at the break with a one-goal advantage. It was a fortunate one from Montenegro’s perspective but a calamitous one viewed through the eyes of manager Nigel Worthington.
Vucinic’s shot struck Craigan and was knocked on by Chris Baird into the path of Dalovic who poked the ball into the net past Taylor. Worthington responded to the setbacks by making three changes at the break.
Corry Evans joined his brother on the pitch in Northern Ireland colours for the first time, replacing Baird, while Grant McCann and Warren Feeney came on for Brunt and Paterson.
Northern Ireland looked more menacing and goalkeeper Mladen Bozovic had to produce a fine fingertip save low to his left to turn Lafferty’s shot around the post.
The Rangers striker was booked for dissent and replaced by Johnny Gorman but on 60 minutes the visitors were trailing 2-0.
Dalovic netted his second goal of the game, coolly slotting home a dangerous cross whipped in by Elsad Zverotic, though Ryan McGivern claimed he was fouled before the cross could be delivered.
Jonny Evans headed Grant McCann’s corner straight at Bozovic as Worthington’s men struggled in the humid conditions.
David Healy and Oliver Norwood entered the fray but still the goal looked like a distant dream. In fact, Montenegro almost scored a third when Vucinic’s shot was deflected wide.
As for the 100 Northern Ireland fans who received free tickets for the game, they probably feel the Irish FA should be paying them compensation.
This is as bad as it gets for them. Qualify for a major tournament? Dream on.
MONTENEGRO: Bozovic, Pavicevic (Bozovic 52), Jovanovic, Vukcevic, Vucinic, Dalovic (Delibasic 78), Pekovic (Novakovic 61), Pejovic, Zverotic (Beciraj 83), Bozovic, Dzudovic. Subs not used: Blazic, Savic, Beciraj, Tomasevic,.
NORTHERN IRELAND: Taylor, Little, Evans, Craigan, McGivern (Healy 69), Clingan (Norwood 65), Baird (C Evans 45), Davis, Brunt (McCann 45), Paterson (Feeney 45), Lafferty (Gorman 59). Subs not used: Patterson, Tuffey, Blayney.
Referee: Bosko Jovanetic (Serbia).