So Northern Ireland are back to winning ways and David Healy is scoring again – all is right with the world.
A well known football chant is “Can we play you every week” – but with San Marino in Belfast, the lyrics change to “Can we play you in the next six matches of our World Cup qualifying campaign.”
Unfortunately, Nigel Worthington’s side aren’t tussling with these whipping boys all the time but they are scheduled to visit San Marino in February.
However, given Northern Ireland’s capacity to feel stress on their foreign adventures, a win in that fixture should not be taken for granted.
The pressure was switched on full blast but you could reach out and touch the relief as Healy on the half-hour and a sublime strike from Grant McCann in the 42nd minute calmed nerves.
The game was over at half-time but a simple tap in from Kyle Lafferty in the 56th minute killed off the visitors who were reduced to 10 men when Mauro Marani raised his hand to Michael O’Connor’s face while Steven Davis produced the icing on the cake with a cool finish on 74 minutes.
The road to South Africa in 2010 is still a long and treacherous one but any victory – regardless of the opposition – was going to taste sweet.
Let’s be brutally frank – San Marino are making up the numbers in Group Three.
Northern Ireland, with it’s golden memories of 1958, 1982 and 1986, cannot afford to be cast adrift in the fight to qualify for major tournaments.
It’s easy to forget that Wales have not featured in a major tournament since 1958 – imagine that length of time away from the top table.
Chris Baird shifted back into defence to replace the suspended Jonny Evans at centre-back with skipper Aaron Hughes marshalling from the middle.
Gareth McAuley performed the right-back role and together with George McCartney at left-back, they would not have been anticipating a torrid time.
David Healy and Kyle Lafferty led from the front again while in the middle there was a start for Crewe’s O’Connor, handed his fourth cap alongside the experience of Steven Davis, Keith Gillespie and Grant McCann.
It was almost a dream start for the 21-year-old but his glancing header goalwards from Davis’ teasing cross in the fourth minute dropped the wrong side of the crossbar.
As the frustration deepened, Gillespie picked out Healy in the centre but his low drive never looked like finding the net.
Davis then threatened to break the deadlock but his shot lacked power and precision, disappearing into the arms of Valentini.
Fifteen minutes before the break, normal service as resumed at Windsor when Healy rediscovered his goalscoring touch.
McCartney went on a superb run down the left flank and picked out McCann in the penalty area. The Scunthorpe United man slid the ball onto Healy who skipped past a challenge from Mauro Marani and fired a shot under Valentini for his 35th international goal.
In the 42nd minute, Northern Ireland doubled their lead in classy fashion. A pass from Davis was cleverly touched on by Healy to McCann who rifled in his second international goal into the roof of the net.
San Marino’s troubles were compounded on the half-time whistle when their skipper and all-time leading goalscorer with eight goals, Andy Selva, was stretched off with a leg injury.
His replacement Matteo Vitaioli joined a five-man midfield for the second half but in the 53rd minute, Northern Ireland threatened again when McCann whipped in a superb cross from the left-wing but somehow Healy, Lafferty, Baird and McAuley failed to produce a telling touch.
Three minutes later, the third goal arrived, gift-wrapped by Valentini.
The goalkeeper palmed Healy’s long range shot straight to the feet of Lafferty who scored his sixth international goal and one of the easiest goals of his career.
Ryan McGivern made his Windsor bow when he replaced McAuley at right-back as the Ipswich Town man appeared to pick up a hamstring injury.
San Marino’s night then took another horrible twist when Mauro Marani was given a straight red card for slapping the face of O’Connor.
McGivern was then added to the referee’s notebook after a late challenge on Valentini. The goalkeeper quickly recovered to foil a close-range shot from Healy.
Burnley striker Martin Paterson was also given a run-out, replacing McCann in the 72nd minute.
Two minutes later, it was 4-0 when Lafferty released Gillespie on the right and he crossed for Davis to conjure up a stunning back heel flick to deceive Valentini. A fifth goal looked on the cards and Davis almost netted again seconds later but his shot from eight yards was blocked by Albani.