Belfast Telegraph

Lafferty, Washington and Grigg fire Northern Ireland to Windsor victory for perfect Euro send-off

Northern Ireland 3 Belarus 0

By Adrian Rutherford

Kyle Lafferty helped Northern Ireland to victory over Belarus on a night when they were given a rousing Euro 2016 Windsor send-off.

The striker marked his 50th international appearance in style with the opening goal.

Conor Washington was also on target as Michael O’Neill’s side stretched their unbeaten run to 11 games.

Fans’ hero Will Grigg made it 3-0 late on - prompting the loudest rendition of the night of Will Grigg’s on fire.

It was the perfect way for Northern Ireland to sign off in front of their own fans.

After the final whistle the players did a lap of honour, saluted by the 14,000-plus supporters packed into the international stadium.

O’Neill will be pleased to continue an unbeaten run stretching back to March 2015 - and relieved to end the match with no injuries.

Tomorrow afternoon he confirms his 23-man squad, before they jet off on Monday for a training camp in Austria.

They it’s on to Slovakia for the final warm-up game next Saturday before their arrival in Lyon the following day.

Northern Ireland open their Euro 2016 campaign on June 12 against Poland in Nice.

This was another big marker on the final countdown to the Euros.

The players emerged to a dazzling show of pyrotechnics with flames shooting into the sky over the international stadium.

In his final match selection before naming his squad, O’Neill named a familiar line-up with Lafferty and Washington partnered up front.

Steven Davis captained the side, while at the back Chris Baird partnered Craig Cathcart.

Writing in the match programme ahead of kick-off, O’Neill urged his players not to leave France with any regrets.

“This is our time and everyone involved must make the most of it,” he said.

They were handed a dream start through Lafferty, whose seven goals in qualifying had made the dream reality.

Good play on the left between Washington and Stuart Dallas ended with the latter crossing, and when a Belarus defender failed to deal with the danger, the striker was on hand to smash home the loose ball.

In the 21st minute a free-kick from Davis picked out Baird in space on the far side of the box, but his strike was closed down by a defender.

Another assist from Davis ended with Lafferty having a shot blocked around the half-hour.

The second goal came a minute before the break, Washington heading into the bottom corner from the left side of the six yard box.

Desperate to avoid injuries, O’Neill withdrew Davis and goalkeeper Roy Carroll at half-time.

Belarus threatened at the start of the second half through Ihar Shytau, before Paddy McNair fired well over from outside the box.

It took the visitors nearly an hour to register a shot on target, with Siarhei Kisliak’s strike from distance easily saved by Alan Mannus.

Lafferty departed on the hour, replaced by Grigg, who quickly threatened via a header after meeting a free-kick from Oliver Norwood.

Jonny Evans also missed a late chance before Grigg scored the third in the dying seconds.

He fired home after great approach play by Niall McGinn to complete a highly satisfying night for O’Neill.

NORTHERN IRELAND: Carroll (Mannus, 46), McLaughlin, McNair, J Evans, Cathcart, Baird, Davis (Norwood, 46), C Evans (McGinn, 74), Dallas (Hughes, 74), Washington (Ward, 61), Lafferty (Grigg, 61)

BELARUS: Harbunov, Shytau (Palitsevich, 78), Martynovich, Filipenko (Sivakov, 38), Valadzko, Korzun, Krivets (Hleb, 60), Kisliak, Hardzeichuk, Stasevich, Yanush (Polyakov)

Belfast Telegraph