Liam Boyce on target as Northern Ireland see off New Zealand
Liam Boyce scored his first Northern Ireland goal in the win over New Zealand to stake his claim for a starting berth in next week's World Cup qualifier in Azerbaijan.
Fresh from netting 23 times in the Scottish Premiership to finish that division's top scorer, Boyce carried his form into the international arena with a sixth-minute strike that earned Michael O'Neill's side a 1-0 success over the All Whites in Belfast.
This was a tune-up for the trip to Baku, which both Conor Washington and fellow forward Jamie Ward will miss, and O'Neill now heads there with fewer concerns over his attacking options thanks to Boyce's 45-minute cameo in Belfast.
O'Neill confirmed on Thursday that neither Gareth McAuley or Craig Cathcart would feature here as a precaution, while Jonny Evans captained his country for the first time in two years as Steven Davis was on the bench.
Burton's Tom Flanagan made his Northern Ireland bow, though he did so alongside two centre-backs in Evans and Aaron Hughes who had a combined 163 caps, and there was soon another international first as Boyce broke the deadlock early on.
He had plenty to do when Josh Magennis turned the ball around the corner but had Ipswich's Tommy Smith backtracking into the box, and after throwing a stepover and side-stepping Tom Doyle, Boyce's left-footed attempt went beyond goalkeeper Stefan Marinovic, who may have been unsighted by Andrew Durante in front of him.
The knock on Boyce previously was that he had failed to produce in big games. Here, in an audition for more important matters next week, he had made his mark within six minutes.
Josh Magennis could have added a second shortly after but this time Marinovic was able to get down to his left to save, and he collected the forward's header from an Oliver Norwood corner shortly after too.
O'Neill had welcomed New Zealand's presence in Belfast as a good physical test for his team, though he may have thought he was getting more than he bargained for there as the half wore on.
Smith caught Magennis with an elbow, which went unpunished by referee Laurent Kopriwa, as did Norwood's lunge on Doyle, in acts which stretched the notion of a 'friendly'.
In-between Smith had to come off with a cut to his face after clashing in the air with Conor McLaughlin. He returned shortly after and appeared to be fouled by Magennis near the byline, not that the officiating team agreed as the Northern Ireland forward was allowed to carry on and fire into Marinovic at the near post just before the interval.
O'Neill duly shuffled his pack at the break, bringing on Kyle Lafferty, Shane Ferguson and Davis, with Boyce, Chris Brunt and Matthew Lund all withdrawn.
The visitors only altered one member of their personnel, yet there was nearly a change in their fortunes as Flanagan blocked Ryan Thomas' effort and Doyle's follow-up flew just wide.
Lafferty came close too from a Magennis cross that he reached before Michael Boxall and poked the wrong side of Marinovic's post.
Charlton's Magennis, who last played five weeks ago when the League One season ended, was then in the middle to guide Ferguson's cross as the Northern Irish lead remained narrow.
And that encouraged the visitors, who hit the post through substitute Kosta Barbarouses when the otherwise-faultless Flanagan let him in after miscontrolling.
That was the only scare the hosts had, and O'Neill was even able to give caps to Accrington's Shay McCartan, his first, and 39-year-old goalkeeper Roy Carroll, his 45th, as the warm-up exercise served its purpose.