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Jonny Evans struck in stoppage time to rescue a 2-2 draw for Northern Ireland at home to Cyprus but only after some fans had repeated their calls for manager Ian Baraclough to go.
Evans bundled the ball home in the third minute of time added on as Northern Ireland came back from 2-0 down, having trailed to goals in either half from Andronikos Kakoulli before Paddy McNair offered hope in the 72nd minute.
There were chants of ‘We want Bara out’ on the hour mark, and though the late fightback raised spirits, a draw was not the result Northern Ireland or Baraclough needed.
— Northern Ireland (@NorthernIreland) June 12, 2022
Before kick-off Northern Ireland fans came together to remember the great Billy Bingham, who led them to back-to-back World Cups in the 1980s, but after the minute’s applause what followed was a display to pile pressure on the current man in charge.
Six years to the day since Northern Ireland’s first game of Euro 2016, there was scant evidence to suggest Baraclough is building a side capable of getting back to the tournament in 2024.
They started the month targeting top spot in Group 2 and a Euro qualifying play-off place. There may well be a play-off to come, but if there is it will be to avoid relegation to League D.
IFA president Patrick Nelson used his programme notes to admit results had been disappointing, but noted this is “a squad in transition”, saying Baraclough’s success in bringing young players through is well documented.
But it was clear that Nelson’s patience is not matched by large sections of Northern Ireland’s loyal support.
Their side started with plenty of positive intent. McNair, back after injury kept him out of Thursday’s 3-2 loss to Kosovo, wanted a penalty with nine minutes gone as he tumbled in box after a smart ball forward by Dan Ballard.
Cyprus, who held Northern Ireland goalless in Larnaca last week, had shown the odd threat on the break but it was against the run of play that they took the lead with 32 minutes gone.
The goal was all too simple, a bending free-kick from Chambos Kyriakou which Kakoulli met with a glancing header as he got in front of Shea Charles, beating Trevor Carson who was in for the injured Bailey Peacock-Farrell.
Boos rang out around Windsor Park. Northern Ireland tried to respond. From McNair’s corner Steven Davis hit a rising half-volley which was touched over by Andreas Christodoulou.
Encouraged, fans got to their feet and another chance came when Conor McMenamin’s low shot was charged down by a combination of the goalkeeper and Kostakis Artymatas.
But things got worse six minutes into the second half.
Dimitris Christofi charged towards goal, playing in Marinos Tzioni who skipped away from Brodie Spencer. Tzioni mis-hit his shot but got it beyond Carson and Kakoulli arrived to tap in.
The Kop responded with a brief chant of ‘We want Bara out’ before it was drowned out by ‘Green and White Army’.
Northern Ireland’s first goal came after a rash of substitutions, and three of the replacements were involved.
Conor Bradley looked to have run out of room on the byline but Panayiotou misjudged it when he tried to allow the ball to run out of play and Dion Charles nipped in and played the ball back to Niall McGinn.
Though his shot was blocked, it fell for McNair who could not miss from a yard out.
Northern Ireland pushed for a leveller. Charles warmed the palms of the goalkeeper, McGinn saw a chip turned over from just under the crossbar, and Bradley failed to keep a shot down from close range.
It came at the death when Charles flicked on a cross from the right and Evans slid in to poke home, though it only partially papered over the cracks.