Belfast Telegraph

All four Northern Ireland's fan-tastic support

By Stuart McKinley

It doesn't take much to get Northern Ireland fans excited.

They've cheered on their team through enough defeats over the years to look for any silver lining on a sometimes very large cloud.

It certainly would have rained on the parade if San Marino, the lowest ranked football nation in Europe and one of the worst teams in the world, had left Windsor Park last night with only the third point in their history - or worse, a first competitive win.

That was never going to happen though, was it?

Well, the 14,500 fans who once again poured into stadium weren't expecting anything other than a comfortable home win and that is exactly what they got.

It's not just the big games that the best supporters in Europe get themselves up for, they know that any extra push they can give the team helps and they were there right from the start.

If anything they were behind the players earlier and even more so than in some of the famous wins of the last three years, knowing that anything less than a win would have been a major embarrassment.

A tangible reward took a while to come, but the signs that a welcome win was on its way were always there and that got the crowd going even more. It's amazing sometimes how they are so loud before the ball hits the net.

Once was never going to be enough to keep them happy though. The four goals that came along through David Healy and Grant McCann in the first-half and then from Rangers pair Kyle Lafferty and Steve Davis in the second will have satisfied the appetite though, particularly after four games in which an own goal was the only crumb of comfort.

The performance was all that was desired too.

OK, it was against a part-time team whose domestic league is ranked at a similar level to the IFA Premiership, but the old saying that you can only beat what's put in front of you is so true.

They also have a population roughly the same as Ballymena, Carrickfergus and Newry. You'd fancy Northern Ireland to beat a team made up of players born in those towns too, but think of it this way, how many goal would Nigel Worthington's team have had to win by to make it a really satisfactory win?

The real answer is one. A win of any kind was needed to get the World Cup qualifying campaign going and three more points are a must in San Marino next February.

Nobody is showing any signs of running away with this group, so any team who can string a run of results together is in with a shout.

With two home games in the March/April double header and Windsor Park being the fortress it has become since that horrendous 3-0 defeat by Iceland, you just never know.

Belfast Telegraph


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