Belfast Telegraph

O'Neill's men ride their luck to equal record

N Ireland 1 Luxembourg 0

Moment of calamity: Luxembourg’s Kevin Malget heads into his own goal last night
Moment of calamity: Luxembourg’s Kevin Malget heads into his own goal last night

By Paul Ferguson

On a night when Northern Ireland celebrated the past and the future at Windsor Park, it took a comical goal to re-write the record books.

Luxembourg's Kevin Malget headed into his own net to gift the men in green a narrow victory and for just the second time in their history, Northern Ireland have won five games in a row.

But the result was largely secondary as one of Northern Ireland's greatest servants, Aaron Hughes, who only retired in June, was at Windsor Park to be honoured for his incredible service to his country.

The match was also about manager Michael O'Neill blooding the next generation of Northern Ireland talent.

Former skipper Hughes, capped 112 times, received a rousing reception at half time as he was presented to the crowd.

He said: "It's always been an honour to play for Northern Ireland. We had some hard times, but the last few years have been unbelievable and it's been so special to be apart of the squad.

"Windsor Park has always been a special place and it's certainly kept me going, something I always looked forward to and it's something I certainly miss."

With this friendly forced upon Northern Ireland due to Uefa's insistence on two matches during the international window and Germany on the horizon in a vital Euro 2020 qualifier on Monday night, there were just three survivors from the game in Borisov last June against Belarus with keeper Bailey Peacock-Farrell getting valuable game time, Corry Evans acting as the proud skipper and striker Josh Magennis leading the attack.

The Windsor Park crowd were introduced to a relatively unknown in Cardiff City defender Ciaron Brown, an English-born 21 year-old, who was thrust into senior action at centre back without playing a minute for the Under-21s.

Brown was one of four under-21 players drafted into the squad from Ian Baraclough's panel as promising youngsters, Alfie McCalmont from Leeds United, Manchester United's Ethan Galbraith and Bobby Burns from Hearts took their place on the bench.

Hitman Kyle Lafferty, who was a late call-up, started up front with Magennis and Oxford's Mark Sykes, also an emergency addition, acting as a sub.

Sunderland defender Tom Flanagan won just his second cap alongside Brown in the heart of defence as Blackpool's Jordan Thomson was given the role of playing with George Saville and Corry Evans in midfield.

Northern Ireland finished the half one goal up but they didn't actually manage to have a shot on target during the first 45 minutes with Malget's own goal covering up a number of failings.

It was a game that showed Northern Ireland's lack of quality depth. While there was plenty of endeavour, Northern Ireland struggled to be progressive and for large periods, each team cancelled each other out.

Luxembourg goalkeeper Anthony Moris was caught in no man's land after just 16 minutes when he raced from his line to attempt to claim a Thompson free kick and was left grabbing for air, but Magennis couldn't capitalise. Then on 34 minutes, the game finally sparked into life with Lafferty, seemingly hungry for possession, played in Magennis on the edge of the box, who in turn fed Whyte. The Cardiff winger appeared to have a great angle for a low shot but opted to fire in a cross which extinguished the attack and then seconds later he fired a shot over from a similar position when it looked as though a cross was the better option, he blasted over.

But the frustration didn't last too long as Northern Ireland soon had the ball in the net following their first corner of the night and embarrassing defending from Malget, who under no pressure managed to direct his supposed clearance into his own goal.

Magennis and Saville couldn't stop laughing as they celebrated and the poor chap was loudly reminded of his error for the remainder of the half every time he touched the ball.

The moment of madness masked Northern Ireland's failure to really trouble the Luxembourg goalkeeper.

Luxembourg had enjoyed much more possession, Dirk Carlson showed some nice touches, Gerson Rodrigues looked a threat going forward and Maurice Deville probably should have done better with a header just eight yards out after a cross from skipper Laurent Jans.

Towards the end of the first half, they kept possession for a prolonged period but their execution failed to trouble Northern Ireland's stand-in defence.

At the start of the second half, Vincent Thill finally had the game's first shot on target but it was comfortably saved by Peacock-Farrell. The Burnley man had to be alert on a number of occasions and he will be glad of the workload with relentless Germany coming up on Monday night.

Both teams made a raft of subs with Linfield's Shayne Lavery replacing Lafferty on 59 minutes along with McCalmont coming on for Saville to make his senior international debut.

Thompson and Whyte were both aggrieved to have penalty shouts turned down by Welsh referee Bryn David Markham- Jones before Michael McGovern replaced Peacock-Farrell in goal with 33 minutes to go as Motherwell's Liam Donnelly took over from skipper Evans to win his second senior cap. Magennis was awarded the Northern Ireland armband.

Northern Ireland were becoming much more an attacking threat and on 74 minutes Thompson missed a great opportunity to open his international goalscoring account when he fired over from a Lavery pull back and then Donnelly blasted a shot at the legs of replacement keeper Ralph Schon.

The speed and strength of Lavery was causing the Luxembourg defence problems but he couldn't find a way to double the lead. For a late cameo Steven Davis was introduced to proceedings for Thompson to go level with Hughes on 112 international caps and 18 year-old Galbraith, making his debut, replaced Whyte.

It was a night for the past, present and future.

Northern Ireland: Peacock-Farrell (McGovern, 67 mins), McLaughlin, Flanagan, Brown, Ferguson, Evans (Donnelly, 68 mins) Thompson (Davis, 88 mins), Saville (McCalmont, 60 mins), Whyte (Galbraith, 88 mins), Magennis, Lafferty (Lavery, 60 mins).

Booked: Flanagan, Magennis

Goals: Malget (own goal).

Luxembourg: Moris (Schon, 45 mins), Jans, Gerson, Carlson, Malget (Hall, 45 mins), Sinani (Alves Da Mota, 74 mins), O Thill (Bohnert, 85 mins), Barreiro Martins (Philipps, 73 mins), V Thill, Deville (Turpel, 60 mins), Rodrigues.

Booked: Hall, Alves Da Mota

Referee: Bryn Markham-Jones (Wales).

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