…But Reasons to be Cheerful for O’Neill in Commanding Performance!!!
It was just one of those days for Northern Ireland today. Despite dominating possession and creating countless chances in Belfast this afternoon, Michael O’Neill’s side were left scratching their heads at full-time, having ended up on the wrong end of a 2-1 defeat.
A bright start from the home side saw George Saville upended in the area by Bosnian centre-half Ervin Zukanovic, as early as the second minute, but Czech referee Pavel Kravolec waved play on to the ire of the Windsor Park crowd. Replays suggested that a penalty should have been awarded and maybe outlined the type of day that was in store for the Green and White Army.
The first clear cut opening came in the eighteenth minute, when the ball broke kindly for Niall McGinn on the right, the Dungannon man’s early half volley being beaten away goalkeeper Ibrahim Sehic.
Only two minutes later, it really should have been one-nil to the hosts. Conor McLaughlin’s square ball played across the six yard box, with Saville not quite getting his toe on the end of things with the goal at his mercy.
Bosnia never really threatened until the half hour, when Edin Dzeko’s snap shot was parried by an attentive Peacock-Farrell in goal.
To that point, the young Leeds stopper had very little to do. But in typical fashion, he would be picking the ball out of the net six minutes later. McLaughlin made it too easy for Dzeko to flash a cross along the deck from the left, and in ghosted Haris Duljevic to nutmeg Peacock-Farrell from six yards. The Dynamo Dresden forward scoring his first goal for his country.
The goal seemed to momentarily take the zip out of Northern Ireland’s play, but Michael O’Neill would have been pleased with the opportunities created by his side in the first half, who had two half chances just before the break. Kyle Lafferty just couldn’t crane his neck enough at the back post to reach an Ollie Norwood cross, whilst Norwood himself made a yard for himself before skewing a 25-yard drive wide just before the whistle.
Momentum remained with the home side on the other side of the break and when when McGinn delivered a sumptuous cross in from the right, Stuart Dallas spurned a gilt edged opportunity. Only the Cookstown may be able to explain how his free header from inside the six yard box didn’t ripple the back of the Bosnian net.
If Sehic was lucky to not concede at that point, then credit must be given for a point blank stop from Lafferty in the 53rd minute. As the hosts continued to pile the pressure on, Norwood delivered a free kick from the left. Jonny Evans rose to flick on the in-swinger on, but with Lafferty looking a cert to score at the back post, Sehic managed to manipulate his body to deny the Fermanagh man on the line.
But in a mirror to the first half, the hosts were again punished for not capitalising when on top. It was a real “look-away now” moment for Craig Cathcart. The centre-half, enjoying a fantastic start to the Premier League season with Watford, under-cooked a straight forward header back to Peacock-Farrell, allowing Elvis Saric to nip in, knocking the ball under the stricken goalkeeper with his first touch, before tapping into an empty net with his second.
O’Neill was forced to throw caution to the win. With twenty minutes remaining, Liam Boyce and Will Grigg were introduced from the bench, and immediately re-energised the Northern Irish attack.
The gung-ho style adopted from the North almost cost them a third goal in the seventy-fifth minute, when Duljevic found himself with acres of room, cutting in from the left before bending a shot toward Peacock-Farrell’s left that clipped the outside of the post.
Boyce was thwarted by the feet of Sehic with five minutes left on the clock, the Burton striker finding himself in space before his drive was stopped by the big net minder.
All of Northern Ireland’s pressure would eventually pay some dividend in the third minute of injury time, when Will Grigg eventually bundled in a late consolation. And the talismanic striker could have stolen a draw in the final few seconds, but just couldn’t get his toe on to a bouncing ball in the Bosnian area.
Robert Prosencki’s side held on for a hard fought if, perhaps, a little undeserved three points.