Belfast Telegraph

Estonia v Northern Ireland: Nigel Worthington must quit after this shambles

By Steven Beacom

It was 11.22pm here in the European City of Culture when the final whistle blew last night. Call it the time of death for Northern Ireland's Euro 2012 hopes. And the time when Nigel Worthington's reign as manager all but ended.

The two remaining qualifying games are nothing more than fixtures to fulfil now for the players and manager, whose contract is up once the qualifying campaign ends.

If the IFA renew it, fuming Northern Ireland fans will be marching to Windsor Avenue.

Incredibly, even after this humiliating 4-1 drubbing in Estonia, mathematically Northern Ireland can still make it to next year's finals.

But we know. The fans know. The players know. And the boss knows. It's over.

And we only have ourselves to blame after a truly shambolic display, which included goalkeeping and defensive howlers, a lack of creativity in midfield and no cutting edge up front.

It was abysmal. Absolutely awful.

Estonia's Martin Vunk, Tarmo Kink and substitutes Sergei Zenjov and Kaimar Saag took advantage of shocking errors at the back to score the goals that condemned Northern Ireland to a desperate defeat.

Estonia even scored for the visitors with captain Raio Piiroja heading into his own net, but the men in green failed to build on that outrageous stroke of fortune.

This contest with Estonia was win or bust for Worthington and his team, yet they were so badly beaten it was embarrassing by the end.

Remember, Estonia are no Italy or Serbia. There is a bigger population in Northern Ireland than this State in the Baltic region of northern Europe, therefore they have less players to choose from than us, even allowing for those who want to defect to the Republic.

The old ‘we're a small nation' card can't be played here.

Bottom line — Northern Ireland stank the place out.

It was up there with some of the worst performances in living memory from our national team.

If you are living in cloud cuckoo land you may think that Northern Ireland can beat Estonia at Windsor Park next month and then win in Italy and that other results might go our way, moving us up to second place in Group C and earning a play-off.

Back on planet earth, the most likely outcome for Northern Ireland now is to finish FIFTH.

That is unacceptable. Just like the pathetic performance last night.

The Green and White Army were out in force — 1200 of them were here — and despite the absentees which included Kyle Lafferty, Paddy McCourt and Jonny Evans, they entered A. Le Coq Arena with some degree of hope. It didn't last long. Up to 28 minutes when Estonia scored courtesy of Vunk. It was a fine strike, but the ball should never have been allowed to reach him on the edge of the area.

If that was bad defending, what happened four minutes later was brutal goalkeeping.

Kink tried his luck from 30 yards with a speculative left foot drive. The ball dipped and bounced but should still have been comfortably claimed by Lee Camp in goal, yet incredibly he let it go through his legs and into the net.

Camp was outstanding in Friday's defeat to Serbia but in that moment he'd gone from hero to zero.

Worthington's team looked down and out. Not exactly what the manager was hoping for with his job on the line.

He needed a break. So did his team. And they got one in bizarre fashion on 39 minutes.

Sammy Clingan flighted in a free-kick which Gareth McAuley headed on. There appeared to be no danger only for the ball to glance off Piiroja’s head and into the net. It was an astonishing error from the Estonia skipper, presenting Northern Ireland with a lifeline.

David Healy had the ball in the net before half-time but it was ruled offside, then our record goalscorer had a penalty claim turned down moments after the break as the visitors searched for an equaliser.

It never came. Instead Estonia scored on the hour to put the game to bed. A Vunk long ball found Puri in far too much space in the area, his looping header hit the bar only for McAuley to dither when the rebound fell to him. He who hesitates is lost. In nipped Zenkov and that was that.

With Camp looking more nervous than a new-born kitten, you could see more goals coming for Estonia.

One finally did when Saag smashed home in injury time with Camp again at fault.

It summed up a shocking and shameful night.

Belfast Telegraph


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