Nigel Worthington’s men draw on inner strength
Northern Ireland 0 Italy 0
Friday nights are alright for Northern Ireland too.
There have been some wonderful Windsor Wednesdays over the last few years. Amazing atmospheres, massive results and occasons never to be forgotten.
And if Fridays carry on like this we'll grow to love them as well.
No wins to boast of yet, but a 0-0 draw with a nation that stood on top of the world just over four years ago wil do for starters.
Admittedly the Italy team that was on show last night is far removed from the 2006 world champions, both in personnel and performance, but they are still one of the top teams around and they couldn't find a way past little Northern Ireland.
A victory over the Italians would have more than matched the famous triumphs over England and Spain. In this Euro 2012 campaign though the point achieved at Windsor Park last night is of great value.
If it is followed up by victory in the Faroe Islands on Tuesday night and ultimately helps Northern Ireland make the finals in Poland and Ukraine it will be a priceless 0-0 draw.
It could have been three as well. David Healy came close to ending his two-year international goal drought with a first-half header and Steve Davis was denied a dramati last minute winner by Ialian goalkeeper Emilian Viviano.
And for the Italans — who lost 2-1 in their last visit to Windsor Park in 1958 — they are still looking for their first win in Belfast.
From early on it was clear that just like in Slovenia last month, when the campaign started in fantastic fashion with a 1-0 win, it was going to be a game where Northern Ireland were going to have to dig in, soak up pressure and be resolute in defence.
That's been the foundation to big results at Windsor Park before, so why change things now?
No way round, no way through, so the Italians began to go over the top in the search for an opening, chipping the ball towards Simone Pepe, whose effort had neither power or direction.
The 4-4-1-1 formation employed by Nigel Worthington, with Warren Feeney supporting Healy, became a 4-5-1 with Italy pushing Northern Ireland back into their own half.
The first great chance for Northern Ireland came on 31 minutes when after a great cross from Chris Brunt, David Healy failed to find the net. He got a clean enough connection but headed down and watched the ball bounce wide.
Worthy’s men were then denied a penalty when Daniele De Rossi had clearly handled an attempted cross from Stephen Craigan.
There was greater purpose from Northern Ireland initially after the break — more possession than at any time in the first-half and there was a hunger as well.
Italy were quick to recognise the threat though and quickly snuffed it out as they started to boss the game again. Milan ace Andrea Pirlo came deep looking for the ball, but still couldn't thread through a killer pass.
He did fire a shot across the goal on 70 minutes though that had everyone in green panicking.
Not content to settle for 0-0, Worthington first sent Kyle Lafferty and then Niall McGinn into the action in search of a goal. Corry Evans, the hero of Maribor, was to come later.
Feeney scored the last Northern Ireland goal at Windsor Park in April last year and he almost produced a carbon copy 18 minutes from time, heading Gareth McAuley's cross just off target.
Chances were coming at either end and only a superb save from Taylor kept Cassano's effort out of the net two minutes later.
As the clock ticked towards the whistle that would bring a draw which would please most of the Northern Ireland fans — if not all — Giuseppe Rossi connected with a deep cross and Taylor made another fine stop. The follow-up was put into the side netting.
The win that that would have seen Windsor Park erupt once more looked there for the taking as Davis bore down on goal as the watch ticked into the 90th minute.
He did everything right, other than produce a clinical finishand 0-0 it stayed.
Not the most famous of nights in recent history. Still, as a means to an end a point may mean a lot in 12 months time.
Northern Ireland: Taylor, McAuley, Hugh
es, Craigan, Jonathan Evans, Brunt, Baird, Davis, McCann, Feeney, Healy. Subs: Tuffey, Clinghan, Corry Evans, Lafferty, McGinn, Patterson, Gorman.
Italy: Viviano, Criscito, Bonucci, Chiellini, Cassani, De Rossi, Pirlo, Mauri, Pepe, Cassano, Borriello. Subs: Sirigu, Marchisio, Bovo, Palombo, Zambrotta, Pazzini, Rossi.
Referee: Tony Chapron (France)