Euro 2012 qual. - McCourt shines in N. Ireland win
Northern Ireland got the victory they so dearly needed with a 4-0 success against Brian Kerr's Faroe Islands at Windsor Park to move third in Euro 2012 qualifying Group C.
Aaron Hughes scored his first goal at this level on his 77th appearance to get the ball rolling and Steven Davis smashed an important second. But Paddy McCourt was the star of the show and the Celtic winger capped a fine display with a classy third before bringing the house down with a simply stunning chip late on.
It took Nigel Worthington's side only five minutes to make the breakthrough. Chris McCann's deep corner was knocked back by Gareth McAuley for his central defensive partner Hughes to fire home as the defence hesitated.
The centre-back's first goal for his country relaxed any nerves amongst the home crowd and it took 24 minutes for Lee Camp to be worked as Joan Edmundsson managed a left-footed shot.
Lacking the firepower of the likes of Kyle Lafferty, Martin Paterson, Josh McQuoid and Warren Feeney, the hosts struggled to make their superiority count but should have been awarded a penalty after 31 minutes.
McCann had his heels clipped by Jonas Tor Naes after a positive run by the influential McCourt but referee Emir Aleckovic inexplicably allowed play to continue.
The official then showed McCourt a yellow card after the winger's protest was far too aggressive and he even placed his hands on Aleckovic.
The hosts almost doubled their lead three minutes before half-time when David Healy was inches away from ending his three-year goal drought. The Rangers striker latched onto a McCourt pass but his shot was superbly tipped onto a post by Jakup Mikkelsen.
There was a scare at the other end when Camp spilled a corner but the keeper escaped punishment when Christian Holst prodded wide.
With the rain lashing down at Windsor Park, Northern Ireland began to make heavy weather of things and there was a real let-off on 58 minutes when Daniel Udsen swept a glorious chance wide with the goal gaping.
Niall McGinn was introduced by Worthington on the hour mark, at the expense of Corry Evans, to inject extra pace into his team's play. And McGinn latched onto a Clingan pass down the right to tee up the killer second goal. The Celtic man set up Rangers' Davis for a superb first-time finish into the corner of the net.
With the pressure off, the men in green's play became far more relaxed and a third goal arrived with 19 minutes left. McCourt worked his way into the box, played a one-two with Jonny Evans, and buried the defender's backheel past Mikkelsen in some style.
McCourt was clearly enjoying himself and his mazy dribble should have resulted in another goal but Healy passed up a golden opportunity by missing his kick with Jonny Evans then flicking his finish straight at Mikkelsen.
With two minutes left, the wide man danced through again though to produce a quite brilliant chip with his left foot that left Mikkelsen in no man's land. The night belonged to the Bhoys ace and this goal was truly magical.
So Northern Ireland still have hopes of reaching the play-offs after moving into third place in the table with Italy red-hot favourites to top the group.