Northern Ireland were left with the Wooden Spoon at the end of a truly embarrassing Carling Nations Cup campaign for Nigel Worthington’s makeshift outfit.
Tears will be shed across Northern Ireland now that their Carling Nations Cup adventure has ended. Few could have predicted just how much the tournament has lifted all our hearts.
In times like these, sarcasm is needed to provide light relief but the summer of doom can begin.
To this four nations tournament we bid a fond farewell and say we’ll meet again some sunny day or maybe we won’t.
Three games, three defeats, no goals scored, 10 goals conceded — it hardly whets the appetite for more, does it? Instead what we are left with is an increasingly desperate yearning for the proper Home Nations battles of yesteryear.
When we analyse the shocking performances in front of shocking crowds — only 59 Northern Ireland fans were in the Aviva Stadium last night to witness the 2-0 defeat — the question that hangs in the air is ‘where did it all go wrong?’
Another simple question is who thought matches at the end of May were a good idea with some players still involved in important games? A Champions League final certainly puts the Carling Nations Cup in perspective.
But some senior players were clearly not interested in pulling on the jersey this week – that leads to another question — if they don’t care, why should the supporters?
The fans answered by voting with their feet.
When Northern Ireland and Wales drew 2-2 at the Millennium Stadium in 2004, Robbie Savage and Michael Hughes were given early baths on a night full of passion, excitement, tension and fast and furious action. There was an electric atmosphere and something at stake as it was a 2006 World Cup qualifier.
None of the above applies to this fixture.
Craig Bellamy and Arsenal ace Aaron Ramsey stamped their class on proceedings, the midfielder
eventually unlocking a stubborn Northern Ireland defence in the first half. A clinical finish from Rob Earnshaw in the 68th minute doubled the misery.
His new-look line-up featured five changes from the Republic horror, with Jonny Tuffey, Colin Coates, Olly Norwood, Robert Garrett and Niall McGinn starting.
Northern Ireland fans displayed their sense of humour by chanting ‘Nigel, Nigel, give us a cap’ but after half chances from McGinn and Josh Carson the boys in white enjoyed a significant slice in luck in the 19th minute.
Bellamy’s deflected shot was knocked back across goal by Steve Morison and McAuley’s clearance
struck Ramsey before flying back towards goal but past the post.
However, their luck ran out in the 36th minute. Tuffey punched clear a cross from Bellamy but the ball fell for Ramsey who blasted into the net from 14 yards.
Tuffey’s next piece of action was more impressive as he blocked David Cotterill’s fierce drive.
After the interval, Bellamy fired wide before Stuart Dallas won his first senior cap in the 62nd minute, replacing Craig Cathcart, with Gorman moving to left-back.
On 68 minutes it was 2-0. Substitute Rob Earnshaw, a replacement for Bellamy six minutes earlier, evaded Coates and found the corner of the net.
Liam Boyce came on for Feeney and Oldham’s Carl Winchester replaced Garrett for his debut before Jordan Owens made it three Crusaders players on the pitch when he replaced McGinn.
The Carling Nations Cup has been a painful lesson for Worthington and his men but also for the Irish FA who paid a heavy price for coming up with draconian ticketing procedures.
The majority of Northern Ireland fans can be trusted to behave themselves. It’s the on-field actions of the players we should be more concerned about.