Northern Ireland go top of Euro 2016 qualifying group by beating Faroe Islands
Northern Ireland inched ever closer to a place in France next summer as Gareth McAuley's brace and Kyle Lafferty's sixth goal of the Euro 2016 qualifying campaign gave them a 3-1 victory over the 10-man Faroe Islands.
Three points moved Michael O'Neill's men to the Group F summit with three game remaining after third-placed Hungary drew with previous leaders Romania, and victory over the Hungarians in Belfast on Monday would now seal Northern Ireland's passage to a major international tournament for the first time since the 1986 World Cup.
McAuley headed the visitors ahead after 12 minutes but Joan Edmundsson equalised prior to the break in Torshavn following an error from Stuart Dallas.
However, Edmundsson was dismissed for two cautions after the hour and the visitors took full advantage - McAuley nodding in from another right-wing free-kick before Lafferty fired in a third.
The Faroes were undone by a two-goal blitz inside 20 minutes of the reverse fixture in Belfast last year and Northern Ireland started with a flourish here too.
Gilli Sorensen lunged in on Niall McGinn as he tried to spin away and the linesman on the far side flagged for a set piece that Oliver Norwood bent into the near post. From there, McAuley stole a march on the Faroese defence and guided brilliantly beyond one-time Manchester City goalkeeper Gunnar Nielsen.
The first goal was quickly followed by the second in the last meeting between these two and it nearly followed a similar script 11 months on. Another Norwood set piece from the right, this time a corner, landed at McGinn's feet and his poked effort fell the wrong side of the near post.
It was far from one-traffic after that, though, and McAuley was fortunate not to slice into his own net when Solvi Vatnhamar's right-wing centre bounced into him.
While his mishap did not prove costly, Dallas' nine minutes prior to the interval did.
Jonas Tor Naes' long throw came out to the Leeds winger and he juggled the ball back into the area, with Ragnar Nattestad latching onto it and pulling across for Edmundsson to open his body and place an effort past Michael McGovern into the far corner.
The visitors might have held a half-time lead anyway had an unmarked Lafferty kept his header down when he beat Nielsen to McGinn's delivery.
McGinn and Lafferty hooked up again in the second period, with the latter's effort on the turn being blocked by Naes, before Edmundsson's rush of blood to the head changed the contest.
The striker had already been booked early on for flattening Norwood and when he clattered into the same player in the 65th minute, referee Felix Zwayer was left with little choice but to send him off.
It took the visitors just six minutes to make their numerical advantage count.
Again McGinn was felled on the right by Sorensen and McAuley outmanoeuvred Odmar Faero from Brunt's inswinging free-kick to nod beyond Nielsen once more.
And O'Neill's side wrapped it up with 15 minutes remaining thanks to another Lafferty goal. He made it half a dozen for the campaign by picking up substitute Josh Magennis' pass into him, shrugging off Nattestad and sending an unstoppable finish into the far corner.
Magennis almost added a fourth himself in the final 10 minutes, Nielsen pushing his low effort against a post.
But Northern Ireland climbed to the Group F summit anyway to set up a potentially historic Monday night in Belfast, where the hosts can end their 30-year absence from a major finals tournament.