Northern Ireland 3-2 Belarus
They did it the hard way, but the most important thing is that they did it.
Now, after creating one piece of history by beating Belarus 3-2 and recording three consecutive wins for the first time ever, Northern Ireland are just one victory away from making more by securing a Women’s Euro 2022 play-off place.
It looked like it was going to be a good night when they opened the scoring through Kirsty McGuinness after just two minutes, but after having a goal awarded and then ruled out, they were pegged back just 14 minutes later.
Then after regaining the lead through a Rachel Furness penalty the scores were levelled again minutes later.
The historic winning strike came virtue of the head of unfortunate Belarus goalkeeper Natalya Voskobovich, but the Northern Ireland girls won’t care and now a win against the Faroe Islands on Tuesday will see the play-off spot booked.
The tone was set by Northern Ireland immediately from kick off when Rachel Furness charged into a tackle in a clear sign of the desire in the girls in green.
That level of intensity, knowing what was at stake, went up a notch if anything and that was rewarded just two minutes in when Northern Ireland got off to a dream start with an early goal.
Kirsty McGuinness closed in on a poor clearance and push the ball into Wilson in a central position, goalkeeper Voskobovich raced out to smother her shot, but the ball only came back as far as McGuinness and she curled a stunning strike from 25 yards out across goal and into the top right corner.
The shot of confidence that gave the Northern Ireland girls was clear to see and that led to what they thought was a second goal just four minutes later.
Indeed the Portuguese referee signalled a goal and sparked wild celebrations after Furness had driven the ball across to the near post after collecting Demi Vance’s throw in and Voskobovich let it slip through her legs. After consultation between the officials the eventual outcome, however, was a drop ball and the scoreline stayed at 1-0.
The whirlwind start to the game wasn’t about to abate though. This time the action came at the other end as Belarus responded with a goal of their own after 16 minutes.
Anastassiya Novikova sent a long ball forward down the right, catching out a static Northern Ireland defence and goalkeeper Becky Flaherty, who had come off her line, allowing captain Anastassiya Shcherbachenia to race onto the pass and roll the ball into the unguarded net.
Neither team was able to sustain the frantic pace and although the goal gave Belarus an impetus, they didn’t particularly trouble the Northern Ireland defence.
The frenetic pace from the start of the first half went to another level after half time as whatever Shiels said to his team at half time shot new life into them.
They were on the front foot right from the restart and created a number of openings, with Furness turning and shooting from just outside the box, Ashley Hutton heading over from a free kick, Lauren Wade having a cross blocked when she cut in from the right and Marissa Callaghan cutting in from the left and having a shot smothered.
That pressure finally told on the hour mark when a coming together at a free kick saw Furness and Julie Nelson go tumbling and although there was no obvious foul the referee pointed to the penalty spot.
Furness stepped up and sent the goalkeeper the wrong way to find the bottom corner and add to her record tally in a green shirt.
Again, however, Northern Ireland’s lead only lasted a short time as Belarus levelled on 66 minutes.
Anna Pilipenko capitalised on a poor kick out and drove forward before playing the ball through to Shcherbachenia who coolly curled the ball around Flaherty and into the bottom corner.
With the biggest 24 minutes of their international careers in front of them Northern Ireland knew it was now or, possibly, never for their play-off hopes.
The effort level – which had been there throughout – got its just reward again when Northern Ireland grabbed the winner with 20 minutes to go.
Furness snatched the ball away from a dithering defender, fed McGuinness who drove towards the box and unleashed a powerful left-foot drive at the far post. She could only watch agonisingly as it came back off the upright, but a split second later her disappointment turned to joy as the ball rebounded off the goalkeeper's head and bounced back into the net.
Bring on the Faroes. Northern Ireland have a date with destiny.
NORTHERN IRELAND: Flaherty, Hutton, Nelson, Vance (Magee 74 mins), Caldwell, McCarron, Callaghan, Furness, Wade, Wilson (Sherwood 86 mins), K McGuinness (Kelly 89 mins).
Subs: Perry, Burrows, Magee, Finnegan, Andrews. C McGuinness. Maxwell, Beattie.
BELARUS: Voskobovich, Kazakevich, Novikova, Kozyupa, Bohdan, Kharlanova (Olkhovik 46 mins), Linnik, Pilipenko (Kubichnaya 78 mins), Shlapakova (Krasnova 78 mins), Shcherbachenia, Shuppo.
Subs: Miklashevich, Svidunovich, Popova, Sas, Pobegaylo, Surovtseva, Nikolaenko, Karachun, Kovalchuk.
Referee: Silvia Domingos (Portugal).
Here's the game as it happened: