Belfast Telegraph

Whyte gloss finishes brilliant display

N Ireland 3 Israel 0

By Graham Luney

Gavin Whyte lit up Windsor Park with an unforgettable introduction to the senior Northern Ireland side, scoring with his first touch in last night's comfortable 3-0 friendly victory over Israel.

It was a dazzling debut from the man who moved from Crusaders to Oxford United in the summer, and it only took 106 seconds after his arrival as a 65th minute substitute to make his mark on the big stage.

Earlier this year, ex-Linfield ace Paul Smyth netted on his debut against South Korea, and Whyte wrote a similar script in an impressive performance from Michael O'Neill's side.

And the 22-year old followed in the footsteps of another former Irish League hero, Lee Doherty, who, along with Jimmy Quinn, scored on their Northern Ireland debuts in another 3-0 win at home to Israel back in October 1984.

This was the medicine O'Neill was looking for after the defeat to Bosnia and Herzegovina on Saturday and, while Whyte's instant magic will dominate the post match discussions, many players in a green jersey shone.

The Northern Ireland boss was hurting after his men dominated the Nations League opener but emerged with nothing.

A morale boosting win in this friendly was top of his wishlist and it lifts much of the gloom at a time when the statisticians were highlighting one victory in eight matches.

Captain marvel Steven Davis delivered yet another midfield masterclass and, after his sweetly struck opener on 13 minutes, Stuart Dallas - another former Crusaders favourite - powered home a 40th minute volley.

Whyte's goal was the icing on a tasty cake.

O'Neill made five changes from Saturday's defeat, drafting in goalkeeper Trevor Carson, Corry Evans, Jordan Jones and Paddy McNair, while Will Grigg - who registered a consolation in the weekend's game - was handed both his first start since against Qatar the end of May 2015, and his first ever start at Windsor Park.

Meanwhile, keeper Bailey Peacock-Farrell was dropped to the bench along with Conor McLaughlin, Kyle Lafferty and Oliver Norwood.

O'Neill's call not to give former Cliftonville hero Boyce a starting role was a little surprising given the Burton Albion ace's impressive impact on Saturday, supplying the assist for Grigg's late goal.

Israel, managed by Andi Herzog, lost their first Nations League match 1-0 to Albania on Friday and O'Neill was in the dark as to how his opponents would shape up.

Israel, 66 places below Northern Ireland in the Fifa rankings, had lost six of their last seven matches but beat the men in green in a competitive fixture in a March 2013 World Cup qualifier.

But O'Neill was looking for a lift after Saturday's disappointing Nations League opener.

In that battle with Bosnia, the hosts made a fast, aggressive start in a dominant performance that included no fewer 18 corners.

There wasn't quite the same blistering pace in the opening stages of this friendly.

Left back Jamal Lewis, in only his third appearance, looked composed and launched into one driving run while, in the centre, Corry Evans made a crucial tackle to stop an Israel attack.

Lewis had a shot blocked in the 11th minute and the Norwich City man looks likes he belongs on the international stage.

In the 13th minute, the home side sprung to life and, after keeper Guy Haimov turned away Paddy McNair's dangerous low cross, the Middlesbrough man cut the resulting corner back to an unmarked Davis, who rifled the ball home with a stunning finish.

Keeper Haimov was wrong footed by a deflection but it was still a powerful strike from the Southampton ace.

Northern Ireland's set pieces may have failed on Saturday but this one paid off handsomely.

Skipper Davis rose to the occasion again, netting his 11th goal for his country, but it was also a sweet moment for McNair, whose career has been blighted by serious injury.

Soon later, Dallas sprinted down the right wing and almost found Jordan Jones in the penalty area with a teasing cross.

The game became a scrappy affair as the tempo dropped and, though Israel had plenty of possession, they posed little threat.

At the same time, Northern Ireland's midfield started to lose influence and the service to Grigg was poor.

But another slick move led to the second goal. George Saville's sublime left wing cross was impressively volleyed home by Dallas. The Leeds United man missed a decent chance against Bosnia but this time he was clinical.

Israel should have got on the scoresheet but left-back Sheran Yelni's header was straight at Carson.

Oliver Norwood replaced Corry Evans at the start of the second half to win his 55th cap and keeper Michael McGovern came on for Carson.

After the break, Northern Ireland stayed on the front foot with midfielder Jones coming close with an angled effort.

Whyte came on for his Northern Ireland debut in the 65th minute and he was joined by Conor Washington, who replaced Grigg.

Within just two minutes Whyte's name echoed around the stands after his first touch saw the ball fly into the back of the Israel net.

Keeper Haimov dashed in ahead of Washington following an inviting low cross from Dallas, but the alert Whyte arrived on the scene and hammered the loose ball home from close range.

As the contest progressed, Hearts defender Michael Smith won his second cap and Shane Ferguson also entered the fray before Israel almost grabbed a consolation when Dor Peretz had a shot blocked.

But the visitors lacked quality and, following a comfortable success, O'Neill will look for that same sharpness in front of goal in next month's Nations League away clashes against Austria and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

NORTHERN IRELAND: Carson (McGovern, 45 mins), Lewis, J Evans, Saville (Smith, 71 mins), Davis, C Evans (Norwood, 45 mins), Dallas (Ferguson, 78 mins) Jones (Whyte, 65 mins), McNair, Cathcart, Grigg (Washington, 65 mins). Unused subs: Peacock-Farrell, McLaughlin, McGinn, Lafferty, Boyce, Ward.

ISRAEL: Haimov, Dasa (Glazer, 74 mins), Habashi (Kapiloto, 45 mins), Natcho, Dabbur, Hemed (Seba, 59 mins), Yeini, Twatha (Scheimann, 40 mins), Peretz, Micha (Turgeman, 59 mins), Tibi. Unused subs: Kannadii, Amos, Plakushchenko, Einbinder, Bitton.

Referee: Bas Nijhuis (Netherlands)

Man of the match: Stuart Dallas

Match rating: 7/10

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