| 16.3°C Belfast

Home is where the hurt is as Northern Ireland ripped apart by Norway

Baraclough's Windsor Park bow ends in red faces as Norway's shooting star Haaland puts on a sublime striking masterclass

Close

Norway celebrate ... again

Norway celebrate ... again

PA

Norway celebrate ... again

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.

For many years, skipper Steven Davis has been the talisman, a player his country relied heavily on to keep them competitive.

The man who joined legendary goalkeeper Pat Jennings last night as Northern Ireland's leading caps holder on 119 appearances is still so instrumental in the middle of the park in terms of creativity, being a lynchpin and penetrating the opposition defences. The importance, though, of having vans marshalling the defence against world class strike forces could not understated.

In Germany, it was Bayern Munich's Serge Gnabry who was the tormentor in chief.

Last night, Borussia Dortmund's young goalscoring sensation Erling Haaland was the main instigator of Northern Ireland's demise, alongside the equally dangerous Alexander Sorloth, who had replaced Bournemouth's Josh King in the starting line-up.

Awaiting Ian Baraclough's men in green in Zenica for the Euro play-off semi-final will be familiar foe and lethal marksman Edin Dzeko, ably assisted by the returning Miralem Pjanic; Barcelona's new boy having recently recovered from coronavirus.

As was evident during the Nations League two years ago, Northern Ireland can be a dominant force against the Bosnians and repel most of their attacking threat.

But with the hosts having the clinical finishing of Dzeko at their disposal, Baraclough badly needs Evans to help thwart such a threat. His commanding presence adds an authority and assurance to the backline, bringing the best out of Craig Cathcart and his full backs, qualities which were severely missing last night.

But without Evans, who it is understood left the camp on Sunday afternoon despite a belief from boss Baraclough in his pre-match media briefs that the 32-year-old would play, and in-demand Jamal Lewis, set for a move to Premier League Newcastle United, Northern Ireland were seriously depleted against a Norway side, who had only failed to score once in their last 17 internationals prior to last night's contest at Windsor Park.

Baraclough, who made three changes from the starting XI that began in Bucharest, was forced to put together a patched up back line with young Arsenal defender Daniel Ballard, who performed with maturity on debut in Romania, joining the experience of Cathcart and Michael Smith.

It showed and again when Paddy McNair dropped back in the second half after Ballard had been put out of his misery at the break.

It was a frenetic opening period with three goals inside seven minutes and then a fourth arriving before the 20 minute mark.

Indeed, within 105 seconds, Smith - who, apart from a late cameo in Bucharest, hasn't played a competitive game since March - was caught out between two Norwegian attackers after a Stefan Johansen's carefully weighted delivery into box, Celtic's Mohamed Elyounoussi controlled beautifully and finished across Bailey Peacock-Farrell's goal.

Close

Ian Baraclough endured a tough first home game at Windsor Park (Liam McBurney/PA)

Ian Baraclough endured a tough first home game at Windsor Park (Liam McBurney/PA)

Ian Baraclough endured a tough first home game at Windsor Park (Liam McBurney/PA)

After Peacock-Farrell felt the full power of a blistering Haaland shot, Northern Ireland equalised in the sixth minute. Ballard, who will only turn 21 later this month, played a long ball into the path of Conor Washington, who drove into the box, used his upper body strength to hold off Even Hovland before firing a shot that Rune Jarstein parried, allowing McNair to slot the ball home.

In a matter of seconds, Norway were in the ascendancy again when, after receiving a nod down from Sorloth, the fearsome Haaland unleashed a ferocious strike from the edge of the box which nearly burst the back of the net.

Individual errors and errant passes, including from the usually reliable Davis, only compounded Northern Ireland's troubles.

And when the men in green couldn't clear a 19th minute cross into the box, Sorloth was only too happy to oblige with a finish at the back post.

For a period, Northern Ireland did start to appear composed and a crunching tackle by Ballard on his fellow youngster Haaland, earned the Gunner a booking. However, it certainly didn't slow the blonde-haired Norwegian powerhouse down.

Davis pulled the trigger with an effort from the edge of the box after a pull back from George Saville nine minutes before the interval but the ball sailing over the bar, on his special night, seemed to sum up Northern Ireland's struggling performance.

When Norway scored after just 90 seconds of the second-half starting - Haaland unselfishly setting up Sorloth for his second when he could easily have tucked it home himself - damage limitation had to kick in.

However Haaland, soon had his second of the night 11 minutes later, powering away from Cathcart, opening his body and sending home the most delicious shot, which completely evaded Peacock-Farrell.

Baraclough tried to freshen his team up with the introduction of Corry Evans along with Shayne Lavery but Norway were in no mood to accept just five, bringing on striker King for Johansen with 19 minutes remaining.

Despite all the adversity on a painful evening in an empty Windsor Park, the hosts were able to stop the onslaught and Davis and Stuart Dallas even had shots on goal but it was still the Norwegians who came closest to scoring again in the dying moments; Shane Ferguson,one of those brought in by Baraclough, heading the ball off the line in the dying moments as poor Cathcart collided with the base of post.

This was not how Davis or Baraclough, in his first senior international at Windsor, wanted to remember the occasion.

If Romania on Friday evening was a morale boosting draw, last night was a demoralising defeat in Belfast.

In a way, thankfully no one was here to see it.

Northern Ireland have, however, been here before, they know how to hit back, pull teams into a false sense of security and this will be an early test of Baraclough's credentials.

Dzeko and co will certainly be itching to get a crack at Northern Ireland.

With Evans in position, Northern Ireland are a very different beast.

They will certainly need to be if they are to stand any chance of reaching next year's Euro finals.

Otherwise it could be yet another sorry and painful night.

Belfast Telegraph