Magennis leaves it late to be the hero for Northern Ireland
Six points out of six from encounters with Estonia and Belarus in two qualifiers
Northern Ireland’s Jonny Evans scores against Belarus. Photograph: Reuters
Northern Ireland 2 Belarus 1
The best moments in football are so blissfully simple as to appear in slow motion. Northern Ireland roared in a manner so customary under Michael O’Neill with a late winner which owed everything to ease.
Stuart Dallas found Paddy McNair on the right flank, with the cross tapped home by Josh Magennis.
Northern Ireland’s toils in a game they fully deserved to win were suddenly forgotten as Windsor Park erupted. Make that six points out of six from encounters with Estonia and Belarus in two qualifiers.
O’Neill was dissatisfied with elements of his side’s performance in the 2-0 win over Estonia on Thursday but it was not enough for the manager to change his starting XI.
Northern Ireland’s 4-3-3 formation, including the deployment of two wingers, was refreshing, and they spent the opening 20 minutes camped in the Belarus half without creating a meaningful opportunity.
McNair altered that scenario when stinging the palms of Andrei Klimovich, following a wonderful turn from the Middlesbrough man which baffled Stanislav Dragun. Klimovich was called into action again as he turned a Kyle Lafferty long-range effort behind, triggering the corner which gave Northern Ireland the lead.
In what proved the latest effective set play from this canny team, a cross from Niall McGinn was smartly flicked on at the near post by Steven Davis. Baffled by this ploy, Belarus left Jonny Evans in blissful isolation. The Leicester defender duly planted a header into the back of the visiting net.
That Northern Ireland could not retain their advantage for more than three minutes against a side which had offered nothing menacing owed plenty to fortune. Igor Stasevich’s shot from outside the penalty area would have carried little trouble for Bailey Peacock-Farrell before a wicked deflection off Stuart Dallas.
The ball duly looped over the despairing goalkeeper, thereby earning Belarus parity they didn’t at all deserve.
George Saville should have put Northern Ireland back in front before the interval, but instead fluffed his lines from close range. Lafferty subsequently failed to connect with a Jordan Jones cross.
Lafferty came within an offside flag of reestablishing the Northern Ireland lead before a McNair drive was bravely blocked inside the penalty area. Belarus were clinging on for dear life at the hour mark.
O’Neill’s first role of the dice saw Josh Magennis thrown on in place of the fading McGinn. The first utilising of the Bolton Wanderers forward’s long throw saw Evans flick the ball to Lafferty, who could only scoop over the bar.
With 20 minutes to play, Northern Ireland weren’t exactly reaching desperation mode but Belarus’s ability to stifle attacking impetus was improving.
Liam Boyce duly replaced Lafferty. Their three-pronged attack remained, with Magennis and Jones – later swapped for Shane Ferguson – now on either side of Boyce.
The key goal moment was to arrive. Magennis enjoyed one of the finest moments of his career after Dallas and McNair showed such composure in the build-up.
Belarus rallied with high balls towards Peacock-Farrell’s goal; such a response from the visitors was in vain.