Vlad all over as Russian bear is slain - Northern Ireland win 1-0
Fans celebrate a memorable night in Belfast, writes Joanne Fleming
It was a long and almost unbearable four minutes.
Amid the sea of green on Windsor Park's terraces, fans held their breath through injury time, hardly believing the likely final result: Northern Ireland 1, Russia 0
The nervous saw their fingernails bitten to the quick during the final tense moments — but plenty of more optimistic fans chanted confidently, as the strains of “Glory, Glory Northern Ireland” soared ever louder.
And when the whistle finally blew the jubilant scenes were reminiscent of the day David Healy ended Northern Ireland’s record 10-game, 1,298-minute goal drought in 2004 against Norway in a 4-1 friendly defeat.
Ecstatic fans jumped in their seats while the players hugged and applauded the fans who helped spur them on to an unlikely victory.
And the increasingly impatient fans had certainly waited a long time. It was Northern Ireland's first win since August 2011 and Michael O'Neill's first competitive win as Northern Ireland manager, in his 10th match.
But it was worth the wait, with fans taking to Twitter to express their delight that the Green and White Army had beaten Fabio Capello's men.
Daryl Haire wrote: “What a night at Windsor Park. That was a special place to be tonight.”
“Another great night at Windsor :-) Wish we could play the so called big teams all the time .... Support was fantastic,” wrote Stephen Finlay.
Stuart McKeown was equally ecstatic: “So thrilled about tonight's games. My favourite match I've been to. Fully deserved. Gareth McAuley was sensational. Absolute rock!”
Northern Ireland-born MP Kate Hoey was delighted at the result. “Great atmosphere at Windsor Park. Fans absolutely brilliant,” she said.
The DUP’s Jim Wells also took to Twitter. “It was an absolute privilege to see Northern Ireland put in the best performance I have seen in 30 years,” he wrote last night. Comedian Tim McGarry noted: “Population of Russia: 143 million. Population of NI: 1.8 million. Put that in your homophobic pipe and suck it. Great result.”
Player Shane Ferguson summed up what many seemed to be thinking.
“What a result beating Russia 1-0. Nights like this you never forget as a player. Unbelievable atmosphere tonight at Windsor,” he tweeted.
Northern Ireland clinched their remarkable first win of the World Cup qualifying campaign thanks to a Martin Paterson header when he guided in a perfect Niall McGinn cross just before half-time.
Victory ends a two-year drought
Northern Ireland fans are known for their loyalty in the toughest of circumstances.
And that strong sense of devotion has been sorely tested in the past.
But it has also been occasionally rewarded with some jaw-dropping surprises.
Last night's shock win over Russia ends a bleak period for fans and will be a welcome relief for former Shamrock Rovers boss Michael O'Neill, who took over in December 2011.
He has had to wait almost two years for a maiden victory.
It was all a far cry from being the side famous for defeating England in September 2005.
Then Lawrie Sanchez's Northern Ireland, ranked 116th in the world, savoured the sweetest of victories with David Healy's 74th minute winner. It followed shortly after another confidence boost — their first competitive victory in four years against Azerbaijan.
Almost a year later, on September 6, 2006, Northern Ireland defeated Spain 3-2 in a qualifier for Euro 2008, with Healy scoring a hat-trick. While Healy's winning goal against England was the most celebrated strike in recent years, by far the most important and famous of them all remains Gerry Armstrong's winner against Spain in their own backyard in the 1982 World Cup finals.
It sent Billy Bingham's side into the second round of the World Cup — where Billy Hamilton provided further memorable moments with a brace in a 2-2 draw against Austria.
A 4-1 defeat to France in the other second round game ended our progress, but those glory days have never been forgotten.