Missed Chances Prove Crucial Again, as North Stare Relegation in the Face!!!
Michael O’Neill must want to tell the UEFA Nations League to f*ck off at this stage.
It was another night of missed chances and heartbreak in Sarajevo, as an Edin Dzeko masterclass in finishing, struck a telling contrast to the fortunes of the Northern Irish frontmen.
It was a bright opening for O’Neill’s side, and they may have taken an early lead had George Saville or Steven Davis tested Ibrahim Sehic in the Bosnian goal when chances arose inside the first three minutes.
The home side’s first chance came ten minutes in, when Haris Djulevic fashioned a deep cross from the inside left position, finding opposite flanker Edin Visca stretching to connect at the back post. The angle proved too acute, however, and all the Basaksehir forward could manage was rippling the side of Peacock-Farrell’s net.
Northern Ireland, who have been desperately crying out for a goal in recent away games, began to play some enterprising football, thereafter. Saville, guilty again of not making Sehic work when the goal was at his mercy from a Davis cross after a quarter of an hour, saw a deft spinning volley smash back of the post after good work on the left by Jamal Lewis, five minutes later.
But, in what has been all too typical of their fortune of late, the North would fall behind totally against the run of play. Edin Dzeko, who had threatened only minutes earlier when blazing over after a beautiful ranging ball from Pjanic, made no mistake when the Northern Ireland defence offered him one on a plate in the 27th minute.
Full-back Lewis seemed to have contained any threat before losing his footing on the edge of the penalty area. That allowed Visca to steal possession and play in the Roma striker, who simply rolled the ball beyond the advancing Peacock-Farrell and into the net.
It was desperately harsh on O’Neill’s side, who until that point looked the most likely. The goal however, did seem to buoy the Bosnians, and Dzeko had the ball in the net again, in sublime fashion it must be said, ninety seconds later, only for his speculative over-the-shoulder volley to be ruled it, harshly, for offside.
He and Pjanic were dovetailing nicely and the visitors would have welcomed the half-time whistle when it came, especially after the Juventus playmaker’s curling free-kick, eleven minutes from the break, proved only inches too high, landing on the roof of the Irish net.
The home side slowed the tempo after the restart, but could have doubled their lead when Dzeko knifed between a dozing Cathcart and Evans ten minutes in, only for an alert Peacock-Farrell to close down the former Man City man.
In a bid to get a foot back into the game, O’Neill shuffled his pack. A gamble that could, and should, have paid off.
Gavin Whyte, who introduced himself to international football by scoring with his first touch against Israel last month at Windsor Park, had a moment to forget with his second touch this evening, having been introduced for Norwood midway through the second-half.
The former Crusaders starlet rose to meet a Stuart Dallas cross in the 66th minute, and whilst his downward header towards goal was blocked by Ervin Zukanovic, it was harder to miss when the ball broke back to him four yards from goal, as Sehic lay stranded on the turf. Amazingly, the Oxford United man could only side foot the ball on to the post, in what can only be put down as a catastrophic lapse of concentration.
And like so many times before, during this Nations League campaign, the boys in green (or white for the evening) were made to pay with interest, six minutes later.
O’Neill, who only seconds earlier had sacrificed Paddy McNair to give Kyle Vassell the opportunity to try to find a goal on his second international cameo, could only watch on in despair as Dzeko found acres of space in the void left by the Middlesbrough full-back. After controlling expertly, the big man bore in on Peacock-Farrell, before bending the ball around the Leeds stopper into the far corner of the net.
Saviile forced a good save from Sehic after a go from distance, before Whyte found the other post with a cross-cum-shot late on.
But relegation to League C now looks an inevitability for the North, which will disappoint O’Neill who must feel that his side has deserved so much more from the campaign. But goals equate to points and, the lack thereof, has proved fatal.
Final score in Sarajevo, Bosnia & Herzegovina 2-0 Northern Ireland.