Stuart Dallas’ stoppage-time strike earned Northern Ireland a smash-and-grab 1-0 success over Azerbaijan that kept them firmly on the road to Russia.
Missing eight players from the squad they took to France, and without Gareth McAuley for the final 65 minutes due to a first-half injury, Michael O’Neill’s side struggled in the Baku heat and were thankful to the profligacy of Afran Ismayilov.
And they secured an unlikely victory when Dallas rifled in a late winner, his first in a competitive international, having been teed-up by the cool-headed Jonny Evans in the box.
TWEET OF THE MATCH
“DALLAS!!!!! HE SCORES HIS FIRST NORTHERN IRELAND GOAL!!! WHAT A TIME TO DO IT!! 1-0!!! #DareToDream #GAWA #AZENIR” - Northern Ireland’s official Twitter account (@NorthernIreland erupts. The fact it was all written in capital letters emphasises the importance of the goal.
Stuart Dallas. The Leeds winger had produced a number of nice turns and strong runs and sent an inviting ball across the face of goal before snatching a vital winner for Michael O’Neill’s men. In the first minute of time added on, a mix-up in the home defence allowed Jonny Evans to lay the ball into the path of Dallas and after taking a poor touch he made amends by slotting the ball past the goalkeeper.
MOMENT OF THE MATCH
There was only one in a fairly dull game and it came from Dallas. The goal puts Northern Ireland firmly in control of second place in Group C.
VIEW FROM THE DUGOUT
Michael O’Neill’s game plan went out of the window after 25 minutes when veteran defender Gareth McAuley limped out of the action with a recurrence of a thigh injury. O’Neill was forced to change his system, with Niall McGinn coming on and Chris Brunt dropping in at left-back as he switched to a flat back four. It seemed to disrupt Northern Ireland after a bright start.
WHO’S UP NEXT
San Marino v Northern Ireland (World Cup qualifier, September 1)
Norway v Azerbaijan (World Cup qualifier, September 1)