No fans. No defence and not much going forward. There was an empty feeling all round at Windsor Park as £100 million rated striker Erling Haaland and his Norwegian team-mates ripped Northern Ireland to shreds in a behind closed doors 5-1 obliteration.
The visitors were much slicker, quicker and deadly in an embarrassing mauling and the harshest of lessons for Ian Baraclough’s side before next month’s crunch Euro 2020 semi-final play-off away to Bosnia & Herzegovina.
Outclassed, out passed and more concerning, outfought, Northern Ireland’s performance wiped the shine off Baraclough’s Windsor bow and a special night for Steven Davis. Even the skipper’s influence could not stem the red tide as Norway players swept past those wearing green time and time again.
The Rangers midfielder has been glorious for over a decade and a half at this level and along with the legendary Pat Jennings is now the most capped footballer the country has ever produced - the pair of them have made 119 appearances for Northern Ireland and while the former Tottenham and Arsenal hero ended his journey in 1986, Davis still has distance to travel.
With mileage left in the legs, that have raced around international pitches for over 10,000 minutes, Cullybackey’s finest should have the record on his own when Northern Ireland face Bosnia on October 8.
Once he hits 120 internationals, he will join England’s Wayne Rooney and should he chase down Peter Shilton on 125, Davis would become the most capped British footballer of all time.
In the morning after the chastening night before that will be no consolation to Davis, who throughout his football life has always been about the team rather than individual landmarks.
This was the first time Northern Ireland have conceded five at Windsor since 2002 and it was the heaviest defeat in the midfielder’s international career.
Ahead of the one sided contest by right a full house crowd should have been in the national stadium to hail their hero and big Pat, who turned 75 in June, would have been in attendance making a presentation to a man 40 years his junior, but the wretched coronavirus pandemic put paid to that.
Flags decorated the Kop but the place was as flat at Northern Ireland’s display. That familiar wall of noise echoing around the ground was what was needed to raise Northern Ireland, just like it did 15 years ago when Davis, then 20, supplied the perfect pass for David Healy to score in a famous 1-0 victory over England at Windsor. That night in a fired up midfield alongside Damien Johnson, who is now in Baraclough’s coaching set-up, Davis excelled outplaying David Beckham, Frank Lampard and his manager these days at Ibrox, Steven Gerrard.
It was not a happy anniversary against Norway.
With Haaland treating the Northern Ireland defence with disdain, the visitors scored three in the opening 20 minutes with a stunner from the Borussia Dortmund forward sandwiched in between Mohamed Elyounoussi and Alexander Sorloth strikes with the defence, desperately missing Jonny Evans, all over the shop. In the second period Haaland unselfishly set up Sorloth and then netted another belter himself. You couldn’t even call Paddy McNair’s goal a consolation. There was none, bar perhaps that this wasn’t against Bosnia in the play-off.
Davis went close on a couple of occasions to adding to his international goal tally of 12 with long range drives that whizzed off target but unlike so many of his 119 games he was unable to dictate as Norway controlled and dominated.
A shocking result then, but not the end of the world. This is not even close to the rock bottom Northern Ireland have experienced in the past.
Remember Baraclough and his side are just two games away from next year’s Euro finals and surely they won’t be as poor as this in Bosnia and as was the case when qualifying for Euro 2016, the players will look to captain Davis to lead them there.
If the six-goal rout by Germany in Frankfurt last November was an indication of what could happen against Bosnia and Herzegovina next month without Northern Ireland’s top defender Jonny Evans, last night’s capitulation to Norway was confirmation.