Relief was the over-riding emotion at Windsor Park last night as Northern Ireland kept their World Cup dream alive.
Nigel Worthington’s men had everything to lose against San Marino – their reputation as a respected international force was on the line as well as their hopes of visiting South Africa in 2010.
Failure was not an option and the pressure could not have been more intense. After pocketing only one point out of a possible nine in Group Three, fans demanded a convincing win over the international whipping boys and Worthington’s men satisfied the supporters’ thirst for goals.
Goals from Grant McCann, David Healy, Kyle Lafferty and Steven Davis had the Green and White Army in fine voice once again.
Lafferty believes the result provided a turning point for his country’s campaign.
“We knew we could create chances but the pleasing thing was we put them away,” said the Rangers hitman.
“We missed a few chances but it’s three points and that’s worth more than the goals. Teams will take points off each other but our focus is on three points in every game and then see where we finish.
“At times we passed the ball around for fun but we will not take them lightly in their own backyard.
“I know a few yellow cards are being collected but you have to be tough and compete.”
Even David Healy joined the party and ended his barren spell in front of goal – if you can call four matches a drought!
“We knew what David could do,” added Lafferty.
“There was no fear he wouldn’t score.
“I’m always delighted to score and that’s me up to six now so I’m closing in on the wee man!”
George McCartney never managed to scribble his name on the scoresheet but he was a constant thorn in the side of the San Marino defenders.
“I’m not sure about that,” joked McCartney.
“I think David Healy got man of the match! But it was a fantastic team performance and that is what matters.
“I don’t like talking about my individual performance as I am here to do a job for the team but the important thing was we got the win.
“We had to put a disappointing result behind us and it was nice to score four goals and show the fans that we are are a decent team at home.
“It’s nice to have a bit of freedom and get up and down the pitch to provide crosses and perhaps create goals. They had a formation to try and contain us but once we got the first there was more to follow.
“The pick of the goals was Grant’s, good build-up play, and it’s nice to get our first win in the group. Slovakia beat Poland so it looks like anyone is capable of beating anyone else and it is just disappointing we didn’t get off to a better start.”
Northern Ireland will now travel to San Marino on February 11 with four points and renewed hope.
A similar performance will be required at the Stadio Olimpico to keep the World Cup dream alive.