Belfast Telegraph

Paul Ferguson: How Northern Ireland built confidence with stunning friendly victory over Czech Republic

Czech Republic 2 N Ireland 3

Pure class: Paddy McNair rounds the keeper for his second of the night
Pure class: Paddy McNair rounds the keeper for his second of the night
Stuart Dallas battles for the ball
Jonny Evans applauds the travelling fans

By Paul Ferguson

A two-goal salvo from Paddy McNair and Jonny Evans' fourth international strike, allied with a determined and courageous second-half defensive effort, gave Northern Ireland their first away friendly victory in 13 years last night.

Three days after Czech Republic stunned England with a 2-1 win in Prague, Northern Ireland, following their agonising defeat to Netherlands in Rotterdam on Thursday, won a pulsating friendly at the Generali Arena.

It has taken 23 games - going back to Finland in 2006 - for the men in green to triumph on foreign soil in a friendly.

And they did it by scoring three first-half away goals for the first time since March 2000 and withstanding a pummelling in the second half, when the Czechs scored two quick-fire goals.

McNair took his goals with aplomb while Evans pounced in a goalmouth scramble.

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill, celebrating his 70th match in charge, made six changes from the Netherlands with a 3-5-2 formation.

Gavin Whyte and Liam Boyce started up front as Norwich keeper Michael McGovern came in for Bailey Peacock-Farrell, Conor McLaughlin and Stuart Dallas acted as wing-backs and Tom Flanagan joined Jonny Evans and Craig Cathcart in a back three.

Steven Davis earned his 115th cap to surpass club manager Steven Gerrard and go level with former England star David Beckham. He is now the British Isles' seventh most-capped player.

Czech coach Jaroslav Silhavy made 10 changes from the side that upset England at Slavia Prague's Sinobo Stadium.

Northern Ireland pressed forward from the start and Boyce headed over from a Whyte cross after just three minutes, while there was a slight scare a minute later when McGovern made a solid save from Radim Reznik.

McNair then scored on 10 minutes for just Northern Ireland's third goal in 23 away friendlies.

Boyce, on the left flank, crossed low into the box and McNair, who used his strength to hold off a defender, slotted into the bottom right-hand corner.

McGovern made a solid save from a Stefan Simic header after a flick on from a corner on 17 minutes before Northern Ireland doubled their advantage six minutes later.

A McNair corner found Cathcart in the box, who touched it towards goal. In the ensuing scramble, Flanagan beat two defenders and allowed the ball to spill out and Evans pounced to smash it home.

It was all Northern Ireland now and Jordan Thompson found Whyte on the edge of the six-yard box and he struck a blistering volley which Jiri Pavlenka managed to save.

Northern Ireland's best goal of the half was kept for McNair's second on 40 minutes.

Dallas played a delightful pass to Davis, who used all his mastery to feed McNair racing through the centre circle at pace. The Middlesbrough midfielder rampaged goalwards, held off Ondrej Kudela and sped away from Josef Husbauer.

The keeper came out, but Ballyclare's finest rounded him and had the composure to slot home.

The Green and White Army fans roared in astonishment as much as jubilation.

The Czechs, in a desperate bid to get back into the game, made four changes at half-time.

And Zdenek Ondrasek nearly made a significant contribution as he found Ladislav Krejci, who shot low but McGovern saved.

The Czechs were now a stronger unit, pushing forward, passing with more authority, enjoying a great deal more possession and troubling Northern Ireland's goal on a more regular basis but McLaughlin, Evans and Davis all made telling blocks.

After Ondrasekand Kopic blasted over shots in quick succession just after the hour mark, O'Neill made his first moves from the bench with Corry Evans and George Saville replacing Davis and impressive Thompson respectively. The Czechs brought on Patrik Schick for Husbauer.

As the clock struck 67 minutes, in the space of 90 seconds the Czechs were back in the game with two quick-fire goals.

First, Darida fired the ball home from the edge of the box after a terrific pull-back by Ondrasek and then from the resulting kick-off, the Czechs won a throw-in. It was flicked on by Ondrasek and when the ball fell to Alex Kral, the Spartak Moscow striker stroked the ball past McGovern's outstretched hand.

The Northern Ireland players appeared numb but they refused to capitulate.

With Boyce exhausted, Josh Magennis was introduced and the Czechs used their sixth substitute with Lukas Masopust taking the place of Krejci.

The Northern Ireland players were defending as though this was a qualifying match. McLaughlin made an important block and Dallas, on 83 minutes, got a vital touch to deny a Czech opportunity at the back post.

Cardiff's Whyte had given his all and with three minutes to go, Niall McGinn was thrown on as a fresh set of legs.

With the 90 minutes up, the fourth official, just like in Rotterdam last Thursday night, signalled four minutes of injury-time.

The Czechs had the ball in the net from a corner but Ondrasek barged McGovern across the line and Slovakian referee Ivan Kruzliak quite rightly penalised the striker.

There was to be no injury-time agony this time.

Northern Ireland held out for a deserved win and they can now go into those two Euro 2020 qualifiers against the Dutch and Germans next month full of confidence.

Czech Republic: Pavlenka, Reznik, Simic (Celustka 45), Kudela, Krejci (Masopust 75), Husbauer (Schick 65), Kalvach (Darida 45), Zmrhal (Boril 45), Kral, Kopic, Krmencik (Ondrasek 45).

Subs not used: Vaclik, Brabec, Coufal, Jankto, Soucek, Kolar.

Northern Ireland: McGovern, J Evans, Cathcart, Flanagan, McLaughlin, McNair, Davis (C Evans 65), Thompson (Saville 65), Dallas, Whyte (McGinn 87), Boyce (Magennis 71).

Subs not used: Smith, Lafferty, Ferguson, Peacock-Farrell, Kennedy, Donnelly, Carson.

Man of the match: Paddy McNair

Match rating: 8/10

Referee: Ivan Kruzliak (Slovakia)

Fixtures to come

November 14: Northern Ireland v Netherlands, Germany v Belarus. Nov 19: Germany v NI, Netherlands v Estonia

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