World Cup - O'Neill starts NI job with defeat

Wed, 29 Feb 21:53:00 2012

Northern Ireland put in a bright and positive performance in Michael O’Neill’s first match in charge, but were still beaten 3-0 by Norway in Belfast.

2012 International football Northern Ireland's manager Michael O'Neill (L) greets Norway's manager Egil Olsen (R) - 0

The visitors took the lead against the run of play on the stroke of half-time as Harvard Nordtveit’s low, daisy cutter of a shot deflected in off Sammy Clingan, giving goalkeeper Lee Camp no chance.

The home team battled well throughout and played some neat football in spells but could not create enough decent chances to get back into the match.

As both teams made changes in the second half, the visitors' bench proved to be the stronger as substitutes Tarik Elyounossi and Espen Ruud both scored late on to make it a flattering score line for Egil Olsen’s team.

Despite coming into the match in rotten form with just one win in their last 13 games, there was an air of optimism around Windsor Park as O’Neill was able to pick from a strong squad in a friendly match, something former manager Nigel Worthington was often not able to do.

The new manager named Steven Davis as captain and welcomed back the former skipper Aaron Hughes into the heart of his defence following the Fulham man’s brief international retirement. O’Neill also drafted in Shane Ferguson for his second cap, two years after his debut and it was the Newcastle winger along with Ryan McGivern and Dean Shiels who were at the centre of the majority of Northern Ireland’s positive play in the first half.

McGivern forced Rune Jarstein to tip a drive over the bar as early as the second minute before Ferguson flicked the ball into Shiels who found Martin Paterson. He was inches away from getting an effort in on goal.

The home team should have taken the lead in the 26th minute when McGivern’s cross was not dealt with by the goalkeeper Jarstein which caused a goalmouth scramble. The ball dropped to Paterson and then to Davis who both saw shots blocked five yards out before Gareth McAuley shot wide.

Northern Ireland were keeping the ball neatly in midfield restricting Norway to long range shots from Morten Gamst Pedersen which failed to trouble Camp. Meanwhile, a low shot from Erik Husklepp was smartly saved low down by Camp after the shot picked up a slight deflection off Jonny Evans.

Camp was unable to do anything with the next deflected shot though, as Nordtveit scuffed a shot through a crowded penalty area and into the back of the net via a touch from Northern Ireland defender Clingan.

O’Neill made the first of his five second half substitutions at half time as he introduced Grant McCann for Corry Evans and the Peterborough United man was the first to go close in the second period as he drove in a shot from 30 yards, which Jarstein had to tip wide.

Two minutes later it was John Arne Riise’s turn to hit a stinging drive which Camp could only palm in front of him to the onrushing Daniel Braaten, who could only stab an effort over the bar from six yards out.

Norway boss Olsen went one better than his counterpart by making six second half changes as the substitutions stopped any sort of flow developing in the match.

In the end it the visitors' bench proved decisive as they began to gain more of a foothold in the match.

As Northern Ireland pressed for an equaliser, gaps began to appear in midfield and Norway were able to double their advantage on 88 minutes as Ruben Jenssen gathered Lee Hodson’s weak clearance and played in Tarik Elyounossi, who had enough space to allow the ball to run across him before smashing the ball past Camp at the near post.

It was a harsh blow for the home team and it was made worse five minutes later, when the highly rated Valon Berisha crossed to Espen Ruus on the edge of the box who hit a sweet volley which Camp got a touch to, but could not stop trickling over the line to make it a somewhat flattering 3-0 score line.

Dan Rumens / Eurosport

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