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Kyle Lafferty, Conor Washington and Josh Magennis start for Northern Ireland

Kyle Lafferty, Conor Washington and Josh Magennis were all included in an attacking Northern Ireland side for their World Cup qualifier in San Marino.

Michael O'Neill deployed all three forwards in what looked like a 4-4-2, with Magennis expected to play on the right of midfield.

Jonny Evans, who remains at West Brom despite speculation of a move to Manchester City leading up to the closing hours on deadline day, was included for his first appearance of the season alongside 37-year-old central defender Aaron Hughes.

O'Neill had instructed his players to approach this fixture as if they were facing world champions Germany rather than the 204th-ranked nation in world football, one yet to win a competitive game in their entire history.

They could not pretend they were playing on a pristine pitch, though, as Chris Brunt lost his footing inside 30 seconds on a cut-up surface that had received a downpour before kick-off.

The hosts, who ceded 70 per cent of possession in the return fixture in Belfast, set their stall out early, with everyone deep behind the ball and the Northern Irish's best opportunities came from set pieces.

Captain Steven Davis flashed a volley past a post after Brunt's corner came out to him on the edge of the area and the West Brom man delivered a free-kick that was nodded just wide by Oliver Norwood.

Given the hosts' intention, it was a surprise to see them get into Northern Irish territory when Brunt was caught out by a long ball that Filippo Berardi latched on to before cutting inside and firing an attempt off target.

San Marino continued to look suspect from right-wing crosses and corners, and Magennis reached another Brunt set piece but could not head on target.

The microstate had conceded 30 goals in their previous six World Cup qualifiers, more than any other European nation, and the Northern Irish continued to carve out opportunities in the hope of adding to that haul.

Lafferty even rounded goalkeeper Aldo Simoncini having been sent through by Norwood, yet was pushed wide and could not find Washington with his chip to the back post.

The attack was kept alive and Norwood fed Davis inside the box as two San Marino defenders converged on the Southampton midfielder to ensure his effort was deflected over.

O'Neill's side were getting closer as the game passed the half-hour mark and the home side were twice indebted to Simoncini for keeping it scoreless. He beat away an effort from Magennis when he was near the byline and then reacted well to keep out Washington's effort, with the QPR forward hooking the follow up over.

Washington, back in the team after missing out in Azerbaijan due to his wedding, then had a glorious chance to open the scoring when Norwood played him in, yet the striker steered his one-on-one opportunity off target.

The visitors came closer still on the stroke of half-time, with Magennis' header from Brunt's corner coming off the post, hitting Simoncini and falling to Evans, who could only stab the rebound wide to ensure it was scoreless at the break.

INTRO: Northern Ireland were frustrated in the opening 45 minutes in San Marino as they failed to break down the minnows in a goalless first half.

Josh Magennis hit a post, Conor Washington fired a brilliant chance wide and home goalkeeper Aldo Simoncini made two smart stops as a team that had conceded 30 times in their six qualifiers so far held firm.

Czech Republic and Azerbaijan were behind at the break in both of their games, but the Northern Irish could find no way past Simoncini to strengthen their hold on second place in the group.

O'Neill refrained from making half-time alterations but he will not have been pleased with how sluggishly his team began the second period.

Aside from a couple of headers from Davis and Magennis that went wide there was little for Simoncini to worry about until he darted out to thwart Dallas after the Leeds player weaved past three defenders.

Brunt's wild smash over from the edge of the area epitomised the Northern Irish frustration and it was no surprise that O'Neill replaced Lafferty after an hour for Ferguson and moved Magennis inside.

Simoncini was unconvincing in pushing Norwood's free-kick behind and was then adjudged to have been fouled from the resulting corner before Evans poked in the loose ball.

Eventually the tension was banished with 20 minutes to go when they finally found a way past Simoncini.

Magennis first attempt was superbly kept out by the keeper on the line, but the ball squirmed out to the left and Davis had the foresight to square for the Charlton forward to place in the opener - to the Green and White Army's relief.

FT: San Marino 0 Northern Ireland 3

As is so often the case when smaller teams are eventually broken down, more goals quickly followed.

Magennis, who had only scored once for his country before this game, added a second five minutes later when Washington squared for him to calmly head home from the centre of the area.

San Marino were unravelling and, when the ball bounced up and hit Alex Gasperoni's hand in the area, the vistors had a penalty and a fine chance to score their third in just eight minutes.

The travelling support booed when Davis took on the responsibility rather than Magennis, who was on a hat-trick, but the country's captain made no mistake to wrap up the points.

It sealed a fourth successive victory for the first time in the country's history as they followed up triumphs over Norway, New Zealand and Azerbaijan with another success.

And defeats elsewhere for Azerbaijan and the Czech Republic means O'Neill's team are seven points clear in second, and can guarantee that place, and a likely play-off berth, with just a draw against the Czechs on Monday.

INTRO:

Three goals in eight second-half minutes earned Northern Ireland four successive wins for the first time in their history as they eventually saw off San Marino 3-0.

Having been frustrated for 70 minutes by a team that have never won a competitive game, Josh Magennis' double and Steven Davis' penalty all arrived in quick succession to get the job done in the World Cup qualifier.

With Azerbaijan and Czech Republic both losing, a draw against the Czechs on Monday in Belfast will guarantee second spot, and a likely play-off berth, for Michael O'Neill's side.

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