Northern Ireland 2-1 Belarus: Josh Magennis grabs late strike for Michael O’Neill’s side in boost for qualification
- Jonny Evans gave Northern Ireland the lead in the 30th minute against Belarus
- Igor Stasevich pegged Michael O’Neill’s side back moments later for the visitors
- Josh Magennis grabbed a late strike for Michael O’Neill’s side on Sunday
Josh Magennis snatched a late winner at Windsor Park to send Northern Ireland top of Group C ahead of Germany and Holland.
The Bolton striker put his problems at the crisis-hit Championship club aside by converting a low cross from Paddy McNair in the 87th minute after coming on as a substitute.
Victories in two key home games against Estonia and Belarus mean Michael O’Neill’s side face the same opponents away in June with a fighting chance of challenging the two European heavyweights Germany and Holland for automatic qualification.
Josh Magennis grabbed a late strike for Michael O’Neill’s side to boost their Euro 2020 hopes
Northern Ireland were heading for a disappointing draw before substitute Magennis scored
N IRELAND (4-3-3): Peacock-Farrell 6; Dallas 6, Cathcart 6.5, J Evans 7, Lewis 6.5; McNair 6.5, Davis 8, Saville 6.5; McGinn 7 (Magennis 68, 7), Lafferty 6.5 (Boyce 79, 6), Jones 7.5 (Ferguson 85).
Subs: McGovern, Hazard, McLaughlin, McAuley, Thompson, Flanagan, Hughes, Washington, Smyth.
Scorers: Evans 30, Magennis 87
BELARUS (4-3-3): Klimovich 6.5; Shitov 5.5 (Polyakov 73, 6), Sivakov 7, Martynovich 6.5, Volodko 5; Maevski 6.5, Hleb 7 (Putilo 66, 6), Dragun 6; Savitski 6 (Nekhaychik 85), Laptev 6.5, Stasevich 6.5.
Subs: Chichkan, Gorbunov, Rios, Kovalev, Saroka, Signevich, Kislyak, Kendysh, Volkov.
Scorer: Stasevich 33
Referee: Pawel Raczkowski (Poland)
‘We’re top until June, which is what I like,’ said O’Neill. ‘I know it sounds a bit ridiculous but it’s a significant thing because we talk about momentum and that’s how you get it. It’s a huge ask, but we’re capable.’
Northern Ireland were the superior side throughout but it took them 20 minutes to force a save from Andrei Klimovich who blocked McNair’s swerving drive after the Middlesbrough man had spun away from Stanislav Dragun.
The opening goal arrived on the half hour mark after Klimovich had palmed away Kyle Lafferty’s awkward 25-yard effort for a corner. Niall McGinn crossed to the near post for Steven Davis to flick on and the ball reached Jonny Evans who had enough time to guide an excellent header into the bottom corner.
It looked like being the platform for another straightforward Northern Ireland win but Belarus silenced Windsor Park three minutes later when former Arsenal midfielder Alexandr Hleb fed Igor Stasevich on the left and his hopeful 20-yard shot took a heavy deflection off Stuart Dallas and looped over stranded Leeds keeper Bailey Peacock-Farrell.
Jonny Evans gave Northern Ireland the lead on the half-hour mark against Belarus on Sunday
The Leicester City defender was left unmarked in the box and headed the ball into the net
Northern Ireland pressed for a winner in the second half but Mikhail Sivaokov got a brilliant block on McNair’s piledriver and also got in the way of George Saville’s effort.
Lafferty caused Klimovich problems on a couple of occasions before he was replaced by Liam Boyce in the 79th minute. O’Neill had already sent on Magennis for McGinn in an attempt to break the deadlock, no doubt mindful that he had looked lively when he came on against Estonia.
And it was Magennis who struck less than two minutes from the end of normal time, starting the move and then getting on the end of McNair’s cross after Dallas had passed to his teammate on the overlap.
There was still a scare for Northern Ireland deep into four minutes of added time but Peacock-Farrell pulled off a fine save form substitute Pavel Nekhaychik to preserve the win.
‘It was a great save from Bailey,’ added O’Neill. ‘He made one against Estonia and now one tonight. He does brilliantly to keep it out. It would have been a bit of a travesty to have conceded then.
Belarus’ Igor Stasevich celebrates scoring his country’s equaliser with his team-mates
Northern Ireland midfielder Nial McGinn (left) tried to find a past in the second half
Northern Ireland striker Kyle Lafferty try to win the ball from Aleksandr Martynovich
‘We found Belarus a little bit difficult to break down. They defended deep and had a threat on the counter. Their goal was a little bit harsh on us. We were a little ill-disciplined, we emptied the middle of the pitch and Hleb can hurt you. It was a good pass wide and then a deflected shot.
‘But we reacted again. We tried everything – changed the shape and the personnel. It was a great winning goal and I’m delighted for Josh.’
Magennis has endured a difficult season at Bolton with the club struggling to pay the players as it faces a winding-up order in the High Court.
Asked if the problems have affected the former goalkeeper, O’Neill added: ‘I don’t think so at all. I think he enjoys coming in. He’s very popular figure in the squad and valued in the squad as well. For me, he’s an invaluable player. Until you’ve worked with him I don’t think you appreciate him.
‘I think people didn’t really know what Josh was or what he was going to become as a player. I think that’s maybe his fifth international goal, so I think possibly he’s proving a lot of people wrong.’
Northern Ireland winger Stuart Dallas tried to clear the ball under pressure on Sunday
Northern Ireland forward Kyle Lafferty attempted to win the ball from Stanislav Dragun
Northern Ireland left back Jamal Lewis tried to get away from his opponent in the second half