Belfast Telegraph

Steven Beacom: Winning hand has a three card jag

Job done. Victory secured. Three points in the bag. The World Cup dream is still alive.

The performance was far from perfect but a positive result was what we wanted.

And that’s exactly what we got.

Northern Ireland don’t win many away from home, so when they come around you try to enjoy them, especially when the scoreline is 3-0.

A few moments of stupidity, however, from some of our more important players cast a huge shadow over the success in Serravalle.

Kyle Lafferty, Steve Davis and George McCartney, along with a few others, entered last night’s World Cup fixture one caution away from missing next month’s crunch clash at home to Poland.

Surely they would have been aware of the situation.

Certainly I would like to think that it would have been underlined to all the players that there was no need to make any rash challenges.

If so, the Rangers duo were clearly not listening.

Lafferty was booked for a silly foul in the first half.

Davis followed suit for an equally needless foul in the second.

To be fair to McCartney, he was perhaps unlucky to see yellow after the San Marino forward made a meal of a challenge from the Sunderland full-back.

The bottom line is though that THREE of Nigel Worthington’s key players will be unavailable when Poland come to Windsor Park on March 28.

McCartney, since his return to international football, has excelled while Davis, as he shows in Scotland every week, is an outstanding talent and Lafferty, I’m sure with his physical presence, would have started up front alongside David Healy against the Poles, especially after last night’s striking partnership between the legendary record goalscorer and Martin Paterson failed to gel.

So, even if the display wasn’t up to much, what was a decent result (the same as group favourites Czech Republic achieved in San Marino in November), ended up as a disappointing night due to a lack of discipline. And it could cost us dearly.

Poland are a capable side and will have no fears about arriving at Windsor Park. Remember on their last visit to Belfast they hammered our boys 3-0.

Worthington could have done with having his best team available, but now he must do without more than a quarter of his starting line-up.

What made the ill discipline even more difficult to take was that it was all so unnecessary.

Northern Ireland had the game won before six minutes had elapsed when Gareth McAuley smacked the ball into the net to the relief and joy of the 1500 visiting supporters.

True, the San Marino players were fouling anything than moved, in particular David Healy, but that’s their game because they aren’t good enough to compete at this level.

We should be better than that and show more care and more common sense, especially when you are not under any pressure and facing comfortably the worst team in Europe and one of the worst teams on the planet

The Group Three qualifier against San Marino was Northern Ireland’s 550th match in international football.

There won’t have been too many easier, that’s for sure.

Before last night, San Marino had lost 27 matches in a row, conceding a mammoth 112 goals and scoring the grand total of five.

Any of the 12 teams in the top flight of the Irish League would beat them.

Indeed, I’d fancy most of our Championship outfits to give them a decent game.

Maybe Banbridge Town or Donegal Celtic could set up a fixture.

Grant McCann probably wishes he could play San Marino every week. Don’t we all!

Back in October, the Scunthorpe midfielder smacked home a brilliant goal with his left foot against them.

A few months on, the Belfast man was at it again, this time with his right foot, curling home a sublime strike. That was the second goal of the night, adding to McAuley’s early effort with substitute Chris Brunt making it three from a free-kick after the break.

The goals weren’t the only plus points. With the win the team moved into joint second place in the group, there was a clean sheet and a fine performance from Damien Johnson on his return to the international arena. We’re going to need him next month.

And maybe Keith Gillespie too.

Just pray that there aren’t any injuries between now and when the Poles come to Windsor.

Like San Marino, that's a must win match if any hopes of a trip to South Africa next year are to remain.

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph