NORTHERN IRELAND 1 LATVIA 0
Steven Davis just can’t stop scoring for Northern Ireland.
The little midfielder, who bagged a glorious double against Greece last month which guaranteed qualification for the 2016 Euro finals in France, was at it again at a bitterly cold Windsor Park tonight.
This time he popped up early in the second half to punish a Latvian side that turned up for this friendly with little intentions of entertaining. They were penned into their own box throughout a tedious 90 minutes, but at least the Green and White Army again went away with smiles on their faces.
It was the first time Northern Ireland had won a friendly fixture since March 2008 when they defeated Georgia 4-1.
Even though manager Michael O’Neill hinted he would use the game as an experiment, he still named practically his strongest starting eleven, with the exception of the injured Chris Brunt.
And, it was total domination by the home once Saudi Arabian referee Mohammed Al Hoish got the game under way. Jamie Ward sent in a screamer after just eight minutes that crashed off the chest of Latvian goalkeeper Andris Vanins.
The visitors were then fortunate to survive when defender Vitalijs Jagodinskis carelessly sliced a Conor McLaughlin cross that Vannis did well to hold on to.
Chris Baird’s peach of a pass then sent Ward scampering into the box, but his left-footed effort lacked conviction.
Latvia had to wait until 29 minute for their first shot at goal, but Michael McGovern had little difficulty in dealing with a long range shot from Olegs Laizans.
Northern Ireland upped the tempo as the half progressed. Stuart Dallas’ strong left wing dash created a chance for skipper Davis on 31 minutes, but again Vanins saved.
Seonds later, Davis’s pin-point pass picked out the gangling Kyle Lafferty and, he looked a certain scorer after leaving Jagodinskis in his wake, but the big striker shamefully pulled his shot wide.
Then, just before the break, Ollie Norwood’s free kick found the head of Jonny Evans, who headed wide, when he really should have hit the target.
The theme continued affter the break. Lafferty burst into the box on 48 minutes, but his stinging left foot shot against was beaten away by the chest of Vanins.
But the home team at last broke the deadlock on 55 minutes with that man Davis supplying the finish.
Craig Cathcart’s wonderful pass picked out the little Southamption man at the back post. His initial header was pawed away by Vanins, but Davis followed up to ram home the rebound.
Davis almost did it again minutes later with a vicious that Vanins did well to hold.
The goal hero was substituted six minutes and was given a standing ovation by his adoring fans for his performance -- how he deserved it.
N IRELAND: McGovern (Carroll 46), McLaughlin, McAuley, J Evans, Baird, Davis (McCourt 84), Lafferty (Magennis 54), Dallas (Ferguson 69), Norwood (C Evans 46), Ward (Boyce 69), Cathcart.
Subs not used: McGinn, McKay, Hodson, Mannus.
LATVIA: Vanins (Steinbors 75), Kurakins, Laizans (Ikauniekss 78), A. Visnakovs (Rudnevs 59), E. Visnakovs (Sabala 73), Gorkkss, Rakels (Kames 85), Tarasovs, Zjuzins, Jagodinskis.
Referee: Mohammed Al Hoish (Saudi Areabia)