Thursday, 16 October 2008

Job done but real challenges lie ahead

Having demanded that Nigel Worthington’s Northern Ireland team deliver a convincing win against San Marino, I suppose I should acknowledge that the players fulfilled their remit. Admittedly the team from a ‘hill in northern Italy’ were probably the worst outfit to grace Windsor Park in quite some time (and that includes Irish league sides). Still, you can only beat what’s put in front of you.

For half an hour it looked like Europe’s worst team could precipitate a new low in Worthington’s troubled reign. From kick off, Northern Ireland dominated possession, but took a while to break down a side that defended in numbers and rarely offered even a token foray in counter-attack. Eventually Grant McCann squared a cross from rampaging full back George McCartney and David Healy scrambled home his 35th international goal, to his obvious relief.

After San Marino fell behind, it quickly became evident just how bad the team actually was. For a start, they could not tackle. Northern Ireland players ran past them at will – Gillespie, McCartney and Davis had a field day – and either met no resistance or were crudely upended by mistimed challenges. Just before half time Grant McCann struck a crisp shot past the goalkeeper from 18 yards and his goal ended the match as a contest. Surely McCann did enough to secure his place in the squad for the next series of games in February?

The second half was a stroll in the (Windsor) park. Kyle Lafferty had the simplest task, converting the third after the keeper weakly parried Healy’s shot. When San Marino had a man sent off for hitting Michael O’Conner, Northern Ireland really might have run up a cricket score. Instead only Steven Davis’ first international strike added to the tally, his deft back heal rounding off a decent performance, after good work from Lafferty at the by-line.

We can assume that every team in the group will take six points off San Marino, so any satisfaction garnered from this performance should be qualified. Although Northern Ireland played some nice football, and showed how much better we can be with a positive approach, there are few international teams that will be as forgiving or as accommodating as last night’s opponents.

Northern Ireland faces Hungary in a friendly next month and then there are three qualifiers in February which must yield nine points. On last night’s showing, San Marino away is a banana skin which really should be easily enough avoided. Slovenia and Poland at Windsor Park will offer stiffer challenges, but Worthington has given himself no leeway and he must lead his team to two victories.


CW said...

"For half an hour it looked like Europe’s worst team could precipitate a new low in Worthington’s troubled reign"

True - but to be fair San Marino weren't that great either. ;-)

Chekov said...

Lol. Reading back over the piece I wondered whether some smartarse would make that comment. ;-)