Belfast Telegraph

In Pictures: Corry Evans is Northern Ireland's hero in Slovenia

By Graham Luney

Slovenia 0 Northern Ireland 1: It was the tale of the two Evans — the one who was injured and couldn’t play and the one who scored within three minutes of coming on to make his competitive debut.

While Jonny nursed a groin injury that left him on the sidelines, 20-year-old Corry lived the dream.

Leaping onto the end of an inviting cross from another debutant Craig Cathcart, his 70th minute winner rocked a Slovenia side that had Northern Ireland on the ropes for most of the game.

But they should have known that no-one does backs to the wall performances like the boys in green.

Young Corry hasn’t made his debut for Manchester United but perhaps he will now — or at least secure a loan deal after his priceless strike.

If Northern Ireland are to qualify for the Euro 2012 finals they are going to need a little luck along the way and boy did they get it.

The evening may have started nervously after Cathcart was asked to fill Jonny’s boots at left-back but somehow the visitors weathered a fierce Maribor storm and have pocketed a crucial point.

Cathcart was tortured at times during the opening half but after the break he made an impressive block to deflect a Valter Birsa shot wide and then claimed the all important assist for the goal.

If it was a boxing match, Northern Ireland would be bruised and battered by a vastly superior opponent, but they were still standing at the end of the fight — and wearing the smile of a champion.

Remember where you saw it first. Northern Ireland have now won only their fourth qualifying victory away from home since November 1997.

That’s four wins in 34 matches — enjoy it while it lasts!

In the first half Slovenia fired a few dangerous crosses into the penalty area, Milivoje Novakovic directed a firm header straight at Maik Taylor and Zlatan Ljubijankic screwed a shot wide of the upright as the green wall refused to crumble. Northern Ireland had another bombardment to survive after the break but the passionate home fans in the Ljudski vrt Stadium were silenced.

Worthington had to make a late reshuffle when a groin injury ruled out Jonny Evans and Blackpool new boy Cathcart was asked to make his first senior appearance for Northern Ireland at left-back.

The Belfast man, who agreed a three-year deal with the Premier League new boys on August 11, was given a harsh introduction to the international stage with Auxerre’s Valter Birsa tying him in knots at times but he had the last laugh!

Aaron Hughes and Stephen Craigan — sporting the armband on his 50th cap — were at the heart of the defence, with Gareth McAuley at right-back. Chris Baird and Steven Davis were in the middle, supported by Chris Brunt on the right wing and Grant McCann on the left.

David Healy, despite being starved of first team action at Sunderland, enjoyed a rare start in attack alongside Warren Feeney.

Northern Ireland started brightly and Bojan Jokic had to chest the ball to Samir Handanovic under pressure from Brunt after a dangerous cross from Feeney.

In the fifth minute a foul on the Oldham striker allowed McCann to take aim from distance with a free-kick but the defensive wall did its job.

But the visitors were caught sleeping at the back as Birsa left Cathcart trailing as he went through the gears on the right wing but his cross into the box was cleared.

On 13 minutes Slovenia threatened from a set-piece when Andraz Kirm’s left wing free-kick skimmed the head of Milivoje Novakovic but the ball bounced safely into the arms of Taylor.

But it appeared that Northern Ireland weathered the early storm and Baird blasted a shot wide of the target after a cutback from Davis who saw his own shot strike a defender.

However, on 21 minutes the visitors held their breath when Zlatan Ljubijankic drilled the ball across the six yard box but Cathcart managed to divert it over the crossbar.

Seven minutes before the break the visiting defence was helpless as Kirm’s right wing cross was met with a firm header from Novakovic from eight yards but luckily for Taylor, the ball flew straight at him.

Northern Ireland survived another scare in the 42nd minute when Birsa slid a through ball to Ljubijankic who blasted his angled drive wide of the woodwork.

It was a let-off for Worthington’s men and they got lucky seconds later when Kirm’s cross cleared the six-yard box without a telling touch from anyone in a white shirt.

After the break, Taylor looked on nervously as Cathcart flung himself at Birsa to deflect a shot wide of the post.

In a rare attack for the visitors Healy collected a pass from Brunt, cut inside but his low shot was scooped up by Handanovic.

Craigan and Baird produced stunning blocks but Healy’s game was up in the 66th minute when he suffered cramp and Kyle Lafferty entered the fray alongside Corry Evans who replaced McCann.

Evans, making his competitive debut, was soon in dreamland, poking the ball over the line from close range after an inviting cross from Cathcart.

Bring on Italy.

Windsor Park will be rocking!

SLOVENIA: Handanovic, Brecko, Cesar, Koren, Ljubijankic (Matavz 88), Mavric, Jokic, Radosavljevic, Birsa, Kirm (Ilicic 74), Novakovic (Dedic 74). Subs not used: J Handanovic, Suler, Ilic, Stevanovic.

NORTHERN IRELAND: Taylor, McAuley, Cathcart, Craigan, Hughes, Baird, Davis, McCann (C Evans 67), Brunt (Gorman 89), Healy (Lafferty 67), Feeney. Subs not used: Blayney, Tuffey, Clingan, Patterson, Paterson.

Referee: Pavel Cristian Balaj (Romania).

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