Belfast Telegraph

Taking on Norway brings back mixed memories for Healy

By Graham Luney

As Norway and Northern Ireland resume hostilities at Windsor Park tomorrow night, one legendary goalscorer can reflect on his own bittersweet memories of the rivalry.

David Healy was firmly in the spotlight when records needed to be banished or created.

In February 2004, it was the then Preston North End frontman who ended a dismal run of 1,298 minutes without Northern Ireland finding the net.

Lawrie Sanchez's reign as Northern Ireland manager began with a 4-1 defeat to Norway at Windsor Park but the long-awaited goal came on 56 minutes when Healy headed in from a Keith Gillespie cross for his first international goal since October 2001 - a penalty against Malta.

Northern Ireland, who had not won for 28 months, were 3-0 down at half-time.

Morten Gamst Pederson marked his debut with a brace and Steffen Iversen got the other to leave the hosts stunned. Northern Ireland got their first goal in 14 games through Healy but a Gillespie own goal dashed hopes of a revival.

Healy was the only outfield player to appear in all of those goalless games and as a forward must have suffered more than most. But his goal brought more than mere relief. It was his ninth, moving him level with George Best.

In February 2012, Healy had a personal record to hit against Norway.

Goals from Havard Nordtveit, Tarik Elyounoussi and Espen Ruud ensured Michael O'Neill's first match as Northern Ireland boss ended in defeat.

But Healy then came on as a substitute to become Northern Ireland's most capped outfield player on 92, passing Mal Donaghy.

The result meant Northern Ireland had won just one of their last 14 friendlies but the picture is very different for both countries this weekend.

The Norwegians, ranked 81st in the world, have won just one of their four World Cup qualifiers so far and that is most memorable for the goal they conceded to San Marino, the minnows' first away from home in 15 years.

They have lost in Azerbaijan and the Czech Republic and a defeat at Windsor Park would leave them seven points off Northern Ireland at the halfway point.

The country has not qualified for a major tournament since Euro 2000 and were defeated by Hungary over two legs in a play-off for last summer's Euros in France.

It is a far cry from the team featuring Oyvind Leonhardsen, Tore Andre Flo and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer that beat Brazil 2-1 at the World Cup 19 years ago.

Norway have turned to 68-year-old Lars Lagerback in a bid to change their fortunes after Per Mathias Hogmo quit.

Lagerback has had success with other Nordic nations, taking Sweden to five successive major tournaments and leading Iceland to their first last summer, where a shock victory over England saw them progress to the Euro 2016 quarter-finals.

Lagerback has an impressive record against the Three Lions having never lost any of his seven meetings with them. However, in his previous two games with Northern Ireland in 2007, his Swedes were defeated in Belfast and drew in Scandinavia.

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