Belfast Telegraph

Paul Ferguson: Northern Ireland will need time get over late heartache in Holland

Netherlands 3 N Ireland 1

Highs and lows: Northern Ireland players show their pain after the heartache which followed Josh Magennis’ opener
Highs and lows: Northern Ireland players show their pain after the heartache which followed Josh Magennis’ opener
Steven Davis and Josh Magennis celebrate

By Paul Ferguson

At 90 minutes, Northern Ireland had the draw they so craved.

A point against the star-studded Netherlands in the De Kuip stadium would go down as one of the greatest results in Irish FA history and, more importantly, would keep them in the hunt for Euro 2020 qualification.

Josh Magennis, off the bench, had acted as the super sub once again, heading in on 75 minutes from a superb Stuart Dallas cross before Memphis Depay equalised with nine minutes to go.

A draw was an incredible outcome in a city where the Netherlands hardly ever lose.

It was in the four minutes of added time when the agony hit hard for Northern Ireland's brave warriors.

First, sub Luuk de Jong turned the ball home at the back post at the second attempt, much to the disbelief of the Northern Ireland players and Green and White Army behind the goal.

Then, with Michael O'Neill's men devastated, Depay scored his second to compound the major disappointment.

There was only pure heartache on the pitch at the final whistle.

Northern Ireland knew deep down this was a game they had to least come away with a point from to stay in qualification contention.

With striker Conor Washington and the hugely effective full back Jamal Lewis out through injury, O'Neill sprung a surprise by restoring Kyle Lafferty to his starting XI ahead of Magennis and Liam Boyce, while Millwall's Shane Ferguson was selected at left back. With Niall McGinn dropping to the bench, Hearts Michael Smith came in at right back and Stuart Dallas moved over to the left flank.

Netherlands boss Ronald Koeman selected all his key players including Liverpool duo Virgil van Dijk and Georginio Wijnaldum, Juventus' young defender Matthijs de Ligt and Barcelona's Frenkie de Jong and, to put it into context, the collective price for the Dutch starting XI would be £319 million - a staggering 92% more than O'Neill's side.

The visitors' disciplined display meant goalkeeper Bailey Peacock-Farrell really didn't have too much to do. He saw a lot of action up close but with Corry Evans, Paddy McNair, George Saville and skipper Steven Davis helping to break up play, his first real save of note came as the clock struck 45 minutes from a Wijnaldum header, however it was tame effort and easily clutched by the Burnley man.

Northern Ireland may not have possessed the class of the Dutch but they certainly matched their hunger and desire - limiting the Netherlands to Wijnaldum having a shot blocked by Dallas and Bergwijn having a stinging effort deflected for a corner.

Lafferty was battling a lone furrow up front against van Dijk and de Ligt, showing plenty of movement, courage and endeavour but getting little change. McNair, with Davis playing the intricate little passes, was attempting to spark an attack for the visitors.

He had a shot from the corner of the box blocked by Daley Blind and then won a corner after coming out on top in a challenge with De Ligt.

Northern Ireland maybe didn't trouble Netherlands keeper Jasper Cillessen but they were much the happier side going in at half time 0-0, receiving huge cheers from the travelling fans while a few boos rang out from the home support.

Wijnaldum was wasteful again at the start of the second half, striking his shot over the bar after an excellent run down the wing by Bergwijn and then referee Benoit Bastien finally lost patience with Northern Ireland taking their time returning the ball to play and booked Peacock- Farrell.

Saville made a great back post interception just before the hour mark, Jonny Evans was booked for a strong challenge and Dallas was called again to make a terrific clearance.

The Netherlands were now playing much more direct football but they were stunned when, just after Peacock-Farrell had showed great awareness to stand up tall and save from Bergwijn at close range following a delightful chip into the box by Depay, Magennis was once again the super sub for Northern Ireland.

On a rare attack, De Ligt failed to clear properly allowing Dallas to win his header with Blind, turn the former Manchester United defender inside out and then cross for Magennis, who steered his header past Cillessen.

The 3500 Northern Ireland fans behind the Dutch goal, including former defender Gareth McAuley, went ballistic.

Koeman's side, fearing an embarrassing defeat, increased the tempo and, after Northern Ireland did well to clear their lines, it took a toe-poke from Depay through the legs of Jonny Evans to bring the Dutch back to level terms.

In an effort to give great protection to his defence, O'Neill brought on Jordan Thompson for Saville on 83 minutes and Tom Flanagan for Corry Evans.

In the first minute of added time, however, the hosts found another way through in fortuitous means.

A cross was delivered from the left, flicked on towards the back post and substitute de Jong could at first only lob the ball up in the air and, as it came down with Peacock-Farrell out of the picture, he steered into the back of the net. The Northern Ireland players were crestfallen and there was sheer disbelief in the away section of the stadium as the Dutch fans, inside the capacity crowd of nearly 50,000, roared and cheered with joy.

With O'Neill's men heartbroken, the Netherlands added a third through Depay.

The play-offs now appear to be Northern Ireland's only realistic path through to the Euro finals next year.

But they'll face an anxious wait until all the qualifying games are over in November before finding out if they are confirmed in next March's games.

It may take until then for them to get over this agonising defeat.

NETHERLANDS: Cillessen, Dumfries (L de Jong, 78 mins), de Ligt, van Dijk, Blind, Wijnaldum, de Roon (van de Beek, 66 mins), F de Jong, Bergwijn, Depay, Babel (Malen, 66 mins). Unused subs: Berghuis, Bizot, Ake, Promes, Strootman, Veltman, van Aanholt, Vermeer, de Vrij.

NORTHERN IRELAND: Peacock-Farrell, Smith, Cathcart, J Evans, Dallas, McNair, Davis, Saville (Thompson, 83 mins), C Evans (Flanagan, 87 mins), Lafferty (Magennis, 66 mins), Ferguson. Unused subs: Lavery, McGinn, Carson, Kennedy, Whyte, Donnelly, McGovern, McLaughlin, Boyce.

Referee: Benoît Bastien (France)

Man of the match: Memphis Depay

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