Belfast Telegraph

Paul Ferguson: Northern Ireland's agonising defeats under Michael O'Neil

Michael O’Neill after Thursday night's game against Holland (John Walton/PA)
Michael O’Neill after Thursday night's game against Holland (John Walton/PA)

Northern Ireland, under Michael O'Neill, has enjoyed many marvellous moments but they've also suffered painful experiences and Thursday night's late smash and grab by the Netherlands was just added to the list. Here, Paul Ferguson details Northern Ireland's most recent agonising defeats.

Austria - Nations League, November, 2018

After losing their opening three matches in the inaugural Nations League, Northern Ireland thought they were finally going to pick up their first point with a draw against Austria.

Even though they were out of contention to qualify from their group, the men in green desperately wanted to turn around their fortunes in the competition.

Corry Evans had equalised Xaver Schlager's go-ahead goal midway through the second half.

But with the last kick of the game Valentino Lazaro fired home an unstoppable shot past Trevor Carson after Northern Ireland had lost possession on the left flank.

There was no way back for Michael O'Neill's men.

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Bosnia - Nations League, September, October 2018

Northern Ireland were the dominant force both home and away against Bosnia in the Nations League.

Yet on both occasions they ended up losing the game with nothing to show for their efforts.

In Belfast, they played a high line, attacked at pace and enjoyed plenty of possession, but they were simply not clinical. In contrast, Bosnia took their opportunities when presented to them.

Substitute Will Grigg came on and finally found the back of the net but it was only a consolation as Bosnia were thrilled to win 2-1.

In Sarajevo, George Saville could have scored a hat trick never mind his first goal for Northern Ireland and sub Gavin Whyte hit the woodwork twice but they couldn't find the net.

Bosnia once again took their chances through lethal marksman Edin Dzeko and won 2-0.



Switzerland - World Cup play-offs, November 2017

With so much at stake - a place in the World Cup finals - Northern Ireland were bitterly disappointed not to impose themselves on the Swiss during the first leg at Windsor Park, but the match was decided by a highly controversial penalty given by Romanian referee Ovidiu Hategan.

Hategan adjudged a shot from Xherdan Shaqiri which struck the shoulder blade of Corry Evans was a handball and the Swiss scored from the resulting spot kick.

Northern Ireland were fuming and their performance in the second leg in Basel was full of guts, determination and a desire to right a wrong.

Sadly for Michael O'Neill's men they couldn't find the equaliser, with Jonny Evans having a shot cleared off the line in the dying seconds.

The goal at Windsor was enough for Swiss to stamp their ticket to Russia as Northern Ireland were left to contemplate what might have been...



Wales - Euro 2016 finals, June 2016

Northern Ireland, having beaten Ukraine, made it through to the knock-out stages of Euro 2016 where they met Wales in Paris.

Michael O'Neill's side were the superior outfit, they controlled possession and had the better opportunities, but they couldn't find a way past Wales goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey.

The Northern Ireland defence, and in particular Jonny Evans, were doing a fantastic job on Gareth Bale when the Real Madrid star was on the right wing.

But having become frustrated, he switched to the left and it was on 75 minutes when he crossed and Gareth McAuley was unfortunate to direct the ball into his own net. With a Wales player coming in behind McAuley he had little choice but to try and make contact with the ball.

Northern Ireland pushed forward for the remainder of the game but their efforts were in vain and Wales triumphed and progressed.



Luxembourg – World Cup qualifer, September, 2013

Northern Ireland endured the ignominy of losing to Luxembourg during a dismal World Cup qualifying campaign.

Luxembourg, who hadn't won a home qualifier, since 1972 recorded just their fourth ever World Cup qualifier. Martin Paterson had given the men in black the lead but Aurelien Joachim levelled with a deflected shot before the break.

Stefano Bensi's low effort put Luxembourg ahead, but Northern Ireland responded almost immediately through a Gareth McAuley headed goal to tie the game up 2-2.

With just three minutes remaining Mathias Janisch sealed the shock win when slotted home from eight yards.

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