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Who is your club's most exciting youth prospect?

Injuries may have forced his hand, but Gareth Southgate won plenty of goodwill from England fans by giving youth a chance against Germany and Brazil. Supporters find themselves rooting for the youngsters in a team for a variety of reasons. Firstly, there is an obvious romantic attachment to those viewed as 'one of your own', players who are more easily related to than your average Premier League player.  Expectation levels are also lowered when there are some fledglings on the team sheet, and because fans are often watching players for the first time their initial instinct is to accentuate good points and turn a blind eye to the bad. A victory is extra special, but any defeat can easily be explained away with 'we had the kids out'. This diffuses the frothing discontent that is so commonplace among fanbases today. So who is your club's most exciting youngster?  Arsenal  Reiss Nelson  Arsenal lost the promising Chris Willock to Benfica last summer and sold Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to Liverpool, but Nelson can ensure fans quickly forget about both. Spurs were interested in him as a nine-year-old, but the red half of north London acted quickly to take him to Hale End - the site of their academy. Although Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Joe Willock and Eddie Nketiah are promising, Nelson is the jewel in the crown.  The 17-year-old is a natural dribbler, gliding past opponents with ease and usually from the right-flank. During his Carabao Cup and Europa League starts this season, Arsene Wenger has employed him as a right-wing back which has curtailed his offensive potential. Expect to see more spectacular performances if he is played in an advanced position.  Nelson regularly started as a No.10 in the youth teams, so has highly developed spacial awareness and ability to cope in confined areas. Whereas Oxlade-Chamberlain more of a bustling 'push and run' dribbler, Nelson keeps the ball a little closer to him - not unlike his teammate Jack Wilshere, and also has a talent for scoring free-kicks.  Reiss Nelson is Arsenal's best young prospect Credit: Getty Images Bournemouth  Lewis Cook Centre back Brennan Camp, 17, could prove Bournemouth's next homegrown prospect but their best youngster is in fact a recruit from Leeds United. Cook received an England call-up in the last international break, and might well get more opportunities given England's lack of central midfield options. He also played on the flanks while at Elland Road, and Cook's main strength is his ability to carry the ball from central areas. He shields the ball very well, getting his body between ball and opponent. This also means he wins more duels than a player of his stature has a right to. Bournemouth did not attempt to sign Wilshere on a permanent basis, and Cook could well be the reason for that. Burnley Dwight McNeil   Any 17-year-old playing for an Under-23 team is worthy of attention, even if Burnley's academy is not swollen with talent like some of the bigger clubs. McNeil, who usually plays as a winger, has been singled out for praise by youth team coach and former Burnley defender Michael Duffy.   "He was a first year last year with the 18s with me and you can see he's got ability," Duff said. "It's about honing that and channeling it in the right direction, keeping his feet on the ground. He's scored a couple of goals in front of a Turf Moor crowd of about 100, ideally we want him scoring goals in front of a Turf Moor crowd of 25,000. That's the key." McNeil in Burnley Under-23s top goalscorer this season, and a club on Burnley's frugal budget they need to extract every last ounce of potential from their academy.  Brighton and Hove Albion Jayson Molumby  Midfield partner Dessie Hutchinson deserves a mention - Chris Hughton felt confident enough to start both he a Molumby in the Carabao Cup this season. However, Molumby is two years younger and was nominated for Ireland's Under-17 Player of the Year in 2016 - which was eventually won by West Ham's Declan Rice. Ireland desperately need some fresh blood, although Molumby will find Premier League minutes hard to come by as Brighton fight to stay up.  Chelsea Callum Hudson-Odoi Where do you start at Chelsea? Lewis Baker, Dujon Sterling, Trevoh Chalobah, Ethan Ampadu, Ike Ugbo among others could easily have been our choice. However, Hudson-Odoi's versatility mean he has the potential to grow into numerous different roles. This is important because young players rarely get a first-team chance in their 'natural' position, but instead are used wherever there is a lack of bodies.  Callum Hudson-Odoi in last season's Youth Cup final Credit: Rex Features A World Cup winner with England's Under-17s and provider of three assists in the final against Spain, the Chelsea man can occupy any offensive position across the pitch. Has consistently played 'above his age' at during his time at Stamford Bridge, and only turned 17 on November 7.  Crystal Palace Nya Kirby  In an act of minor revenge for the John Bostock saga, Palace managed to prise Kirby away from Tottenham and the England youth international was part of their pre-season tour of the Far East. Kirby has played most of his football in central midfield, where he likes to dribble with the ball to attract opponents and create space ahead of him.  Kirby is another on this list who was part of England's triumphant Under-17s team in India, and said: “When we met up at the start, everyone had a good winning mentality and we went out there trying to win it.We were there for five weeks but we had a good bunch of lads and it was a great place. The fans were amazing; in the final there were 63,000 in attendance which was incredible.” Everton Jonjoe Kenny  Despite their reputation for giving young players first-team opportunities, a number of prospects have proven dead ends: James Vaughan, Victor Anichebe, Jack Rodwell and even, if his situation remains the same, Ross Barkley.  The generation lead by Tom Davies and Dominic Calvert-Lewin are hoping to be more durable, and young full-back Jonjoe Kenny is particularly well regarded. Everton will need a long-term replacement for Seamus Coleman, and the 20-year-old Kenny is the next cab off the rank. Alexis Sanchez gave him a rough ride in a 5-2 defeat last month, and he sliced one into his own net at Leicester, but such chastening experiences are part of a young player's development. Needs to avoid a serious injury, like the one that thwarted a promising full-back from across Stanley Park, Jon Flanagan.  Huddersfield Town Philip Billing Currently on the treatment table, the 21-year-old Danish midfielder caught the eye in Huddersfield's FA Cup replay at Manchester City last season where Alan Shearer described his performance as 'brilliant'. The club's young player of the year in each of the last two seasons, Billing is a rangy central midfielder who stands out from the pack by virtue of being 6ft 5in tall and left-footed. Long-range strikes at Nottingham Forest and Cardiff City, Huddersfield's goal of the season in their promotion campaign, are proof of sound technique too.  The best young players in world football Leicester City Hamza Choudhury  An impressive afro makes him instantly recognisable, and Choudhury made his senior Leicester debut against Liverpool in the Carabao Cup this season. The 20-year-old grew up in Leicestershire and captained the club's Under-23s team. A midfielder by trade, he benefited from a loan spell with then League One club Burton Albion. His immediate family are from Bangladesh, and he could prove something of a trailblazer as one of the first top-flight British Asian footballers since Fulham's Zesh Rehman more than a decade ago.  Choudbury told the Leicester Mercury:  “Asians have family everywhere. We are all very close, so when something heart-warming happens everyone gets together to celebrate, like my debut. “I don’t really feel any pressure about being a professional from an Asian background. My family have been a great help with that, just telling me to enjoy it. “If I turned around tomorrow and said I didn’t want to play football any more they would support me. I really have their backing no matter what I don’t feel any pressure.” Liverpool Rhian Brewster An obvious choice after his goalscoring heroics at the Under-17 World Cup. Brewster actually hails from east London, and joined Liverpool from Chelsea's academy aged 15, and has since been fast-tracked into their Under-23 development team. Described as a 'natural striker' by Jurgen Klopp, Brewster has inevitably attracted comparisons to former Melwood whirlwinds Robbie Fowler and Michael Owen.  His eight goals at the World Cup were evidence of intuitive anticipation in the penalty area, but interestingly Brewster has worn the No.10 shirt for Liverpool's youth teams. A glance at his highlights show a player happy to drop off the last line of defence to link play and provide for others, though this might be a reflection of the fact he is comfortably the best player in his age group. These skills might be redundant as he develops into a centre forward at senior level, but the ability to fit into a collective is important in today's game - particularly under Jurgen Klopp. Just ask Daniel Sturridge.  Manchester City Phil Foden Like Chelsea, Man City have a treasure trove of promising players coming through. Brahim Diaz should be mentioned in dispatches, but Phil Foden is the apple of Pep Guardiola's eye. Comfortable in any midfield role, the 17-year-old has already been called up to train with City's first team and would have played against Wolves in the Carabao Cup but for England commitments at the World Cup in India. He played his part in their victory over Spain in the final, scoring twice.  Foden impressed in a pre-season outing against Manchester United this summer, rarely taking more than two touches as a he fitted seamlessly into Guardiola's style of play. Opponents will note he is strongly left-footed, but his spatial awareness and scanning of the pitch means he moves the ball quickly enough before they can force him onto his right. There will be comparisons with Wilshere, but Foden is probably more of a passer than a dribbler.  Rhian Brewster and Phil Foden's mantelpieces will be full after their summer success Credit: PA Manchester United Axel Tuanzebe  As Jose Mourinho prioritised the Europa League in the closing stretch of last season, Tuanzebe got some first-team minutes, notably away at Arsenal. The 20-year-old's favourite position is centre-back, but his opportunities at senior level could come as a full-back while he has also played in central midfield. His signature move is the way he changes gear and drives away from opponents, and his calmness in possession puts Phil Jones and Chris Smalling to shame. With the latter likely to be moved on by Jose Mourinho before too long, a pathway could open up for Tuanzebe.  Newcastle United Dan Barlaser Born in Gateshead but a Turker Under-17 international, Barlaser has just signed a contract extension to keep him at Newcastle until 2019. The 20-year-old midfielder has made three first-team appearances, and is regarded as an energetic midfielder. A former winger, Barlaser looks to control games with his passing range and also likes to shoot from distance. Rafael Benitez will plump for experience as Newcastle look to secure Premier League survival, but it has been too long since Newcastle fans really grew to love a local lad.  Southampton  Callum Slattery  An England international at youth level, Slattery signed a three-year-contract with Southampton this summer which is a mark of the club's faith in the young midfielder. Hoping to follow the likes of Callum Chambers, Matt Targett, Luke Shaw, Jack Stephens and Josh Sims and progress to Southampton's first team, Slattery is viewed as a box-to-box midfielder. The 18-year-old is yet to make a senior appearance on the south coast, and with the amount of competition in Southampton's midfield that is unlikely to change soon. If only he was a striker...  Callum Slattery in action against Cardiff's Under-23s Credit: Getty Images Stoke City Tyrese Campbell Son of pin-stripped former Arsenal and Everton striker Kevin Campbell, Tyrese was picked out by Stoke manager Mark Hughes as a player with the potential to make it at Premier League level. Hughes said: "He and his father clearly looked at his prospects at Man City, a fantastic operation and clearly a great club and a huge stage for any player, but for younger players it is difficult to break through. “So we presented to him and said, ‘Listen, if you progress and you fulfil the potential that we think you’ve got then there is going to be that pathway to the first team and it is going to happen quicker than you think possibly’.” Campbell's four goals in Premier League 2 this season have all come from the penalty spot, and coach Glyn Hodges has called on him to be more selfish in front of goal.  Swansea City Joe Rodon Dubbed the 'Welsh John Stones', Rodon has attracted the attention of Celtic and Manchester City with his performances at youth level for club and country. The 20-year-old defender is yet to make his full Swansea debut, but did get to train with Chris Coleman's Wales squad in the March international break along with former teammates Neil Taylor and Ashley Williams.  "The old Swansea boys took care of me and I thought I had got off pretty lightly until they turned around and told me I could not go until I had done my initiation," Rodon recalled to Wales Online.  "I can't thank them enough for that! "I ended up doing 'Ain't No Mountain High Enough' by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Tyrell. "A few of the boys said it was pretty old school for someone of my age, but I'm definitely not going to say if I did it any justice or not!"  Tottenham Hotspur  Marcus Edwards  Mauricio Pochettino has not even bothered to play it cool with Edwards, nicknaming him 'Mini-Messi' at the Spurs training ground. His name has been on the grapevine for a few years now, but Edwards is still only 18. Slight, with a low centre of gravity, Edwards loves to drift to the right flank before cutting inside onto his favoured left-foot. As Pochettino's moniker for him suggests, Edwards loves to carry the fall and commit defenders.  This could potentially stand him in good stead because on thing Spurs lack, for all their qualities, is a wide player with trickery. Their most laboured performances this season have come at Wembley against Burnley, Swansea, Bournemouth and Crystal Palace - teams who put numbers behind the ball and asked Spurs to break them down. The likes of Clinton Njié and Georges-Kévin N'Koudou failed to make the cut, but Edwards could be the final piece in Pochettino's puzzle.  The first of many north London derbies for Marcus Edwards? Credit: Getty Images Watford  Isaac Success He might sound like a minor Martin Amis character, and behave like one off the pitch, but Success is a hugely talented player who Marco Silva believes still has a future at Vicarage Road. The 21-year-old showed enough last season to suggest he might be right, when his pace and ability on the flanks caught the eye. The performances of new singing Richarlison however, might restrict future opportunities.  West Bromwich Albion  Sam Field Tony Pulis is a footballing conservative, so handing eight Premier League appearances to teenage midfielder Sam Field says plenty about his qualities. Pulis even described Field's performance against Chelsea last term as 'smashing'. Despite interest from several Championship clubs this summer, Field has stayed at West Brom to continue his development in the youth teams. Supporting West Brom is a bit of a drag at present, but Field is one reason for optimism.  West Ham United  Declan Rice Reece Oxford will run him close, but Rice could be the long-term answer to the defensive vulnerabilities that have hindered West Ham for so long. The 18-year-old centre back has already tasted Premier League football this season, and Slaven Bilic trusted him to occupy the central position when West Ham played with a back three. There is also evidence of the 'leadership' attributes that coaches crave, as Rice captained West Ham's Under-23s to the Premier League 2 title last season. 

Who is your club's most exciting youth prospect?

Injuries may have forced his hand, but Gareth Southgate won plenty of goodwill from England fans by giving youth a chance against Germany and Brazil. Supporters find themselves rooting for the youngsters in a team for a variety of reasons. Firstly, there is an obvious romantic attachment to those viewed as 'one of your own', players who are more easily related to than your average Premier League player.  Expectation levels are also lowered when there are some fledglings on the team sheet, and because fans are often watching players for the first time their initial instinct is to accentuate good points and turn a blind eye to the bad. A victory is extra special, but any defeat can easily be explained away with 'we had the kids out'. This diffuses the frothing discontent that is so commonplace among fanbases today. So who is your club's most exciting youngster?  Arsenal  Reiss Nelson  Arsenal lost the promising Chris Willock to Benfica last summer and sold Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to Liverpool, but Nelson can ensure fans quickly forget about both. Spurs were interested in him as a nine-year-old, but the red half of north London acted quickly to take him to Hale End - the site of their academy. Although Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Joe Willock and Eddie Nketiah are promising, Nelson is the jewel in the crown.  The 17-year-old is a natural dribbler, gliding past opponents with ease and usually from the right-flank. During his Carabao Cup and Europa League starts this season, Arsene Wenger has employed him as a right-wing back which has curtailed his offensive potential. Expect to see more spectacular performances if he is played in an advanced position.  Nelson regularly started as a No.10 in the youth teams, so has highly developed spacial awareness and ability to cope in confined areas. Whereas Oxlade-Chamberlain more of a bustling 'push and run' dribbler, Nelson keeps the ball a little closer to him - not unlike his teammate Jack Wilshere, and also has a talent for scoring free-kicks.  Reiss Nelson is Arsenal's best young prospect Credit: Getty Images Bournemouth  Lewis Cook Centre back Brennan Camp, 17, could prove Bournemouth's next homegrown prospect but their best youngster is in fact a recruit from Leeds United. Cook received an England call-up in the last international break, and might well get more opportunities given England's lack of central midfield options. He also played on the flanks while at Elland Road, and Cook's main strength is his ability to carry the ball from central areas. He shields the ball very well, getting his body between ball and opponent. This also means he wins more duels than a player of his stature has a right to. Bournemouth did not attempt to sign Wilshere on a permanent basis, and Cook could well be the reason for that. Burnley Dwight McNeil   Any 17-year-old playing for an Under-23 team is worthy of attention, even if Burnley's academy is not swollen with talent like some of the bigger clubs. McNeil, who usually plays as a winger, has been singled out for praise by youth team coach and former Burnley defender Michael Duffy.   "He was a first year last year with the 18s with me and you can see he's got ability," Duff said. "It's about honing that and channeling it in the right direction, keeping his feet on the ground. He's scored a couple of goals in front of a Turf Moor crowd of about 100, ideally we want him scoring goals in front of a Turf Moor crowd of 25,000. That's the key." McNeil in Burnley Under-23s top goalscorer this season, and a club on Burnley's frugal budget they need to extract every last ounce of potential from their academy.  Brighton and Hove Albion Jayson Molumby  Midfield partner Dessie Hutchinson deserves a mention - Chris Hughton felt confident enough to start both he a Molumby in the Carabao Cup this season. However, Molumby is two years younger and was nominated for Ireland's Under-17 Player of the Year in 2016 - which was eventually won by West Ham's Declan Rice. Ireland desperately need some fresh blood, although Molumby will find Premier League minutes hard to come by as Brighton fight to stay up.  Chelsea Callum Hudson-Odoi Where do you start at Chelsea? Lewis Baker, Dujon Sterling, Trevoh Chalobah, Ethan Ampadu, Ike Ugbo among others could easily have been our choice. However, Hudson-Odoi's versatility mean he has the potential to grow into numerous different roles. This is important because young players rarely get a first-team chance in their 'natural' position, but instead are used wherever there is a lack of bodies.  Callum Hudson-Odoi in last season's Youth Cup final Credit: Rex Features A World Cup winner with England's Under-17s and provider of three assists in the final against Spain, the Chelsea man can occupy any offensive position across the pitch. Has consistently played 'above his age' at during his time at Stamford Bridge, and only turned 17 on November 7.  Crystal Palace Nya Kirby  In an act of minor revenge for the John Bostock saga, Palace managed to prise Kirby away from Tottenham and the England youth international was part of their pre-season tour of the Far East. Kirby has played most of his football in central midfield, where he likes to dribble with the ball to attract opponents and create space ahead of him.  Kirby is another on this list who was part of England's triumphant Under-17s team in India, and said: “When we met up at the start, everyone had a good winning mentality and we went out there trying to win it.We were there for five weeks but we had a good bunch of lads and it was a great place. The fans were amazing; in the final there were 63,000 in attendance which was incredible.” Everton Jonjoe Kenny  Despite their reputation for giving young players first-team opportunities, a number of prospects have proven dead ends: James Vaughan, Victor Anichebe, Jack Rodwell and even, if his situation remains the same, Ross Barkley.  The generation lead by Tom Davies and Dominic Calvert-Lewin are hoping to be more durable, and young full-back Jonjoe Kenny is particularly well regarded. Everton will need a long-term replacement for Seamus Coleman, and the 20-year-old Kenny is the next cab off the rank. Alexis Sanchez gave him a rough ride in a 5-2 defeat last month, and he sliced one into his own net at Leicester, but such chastening experiences are part of a young player's development. Needs to avoid a serious injury, like the one that thwarted a promising full-back from across Stanley Park, Jon Flanagan.  Huddersfield Town Philip Billing Currently on the treatment table, the 21-year-old Danish midfielder caught the eye in Huddersfield's FA Cup replay at Manchester City last season where Alan Shearer described his performance as 'brilliant'. The club's young player of the year in each of the last two seasons, Billing is a rangy central midfielder who stands out from the pack by virtue of being 6ft 5in tall and left-footed. Long-range strikes at Nottingham Forest and Cardiff City, Huddersfield's goal of the season in their promotion campaign, are proof of sound technique too.  The best young players in world football Leicester City Hamza Choudhury  An impressive afro makes him instantly recognisable, and Choudhury made his senior Leicester debut against Liverpool in the Carabao Cup this season. The 20-year-old grew up in Leicestershire and captained the club's Under-23s team. A midfielder by trade, he benefited from a loan spell with then League One club Burton Albion. His immediate family are from Bangladesh, and he could prove something of a trailblazer as one of the first top-flight British Asian footballers since Fulham's Zesh Rehman more than a decade ago.  Choudbury told the Leicester Mercury:  “Asians have family everywhere. We are all very close, so when something heart-warming happens everyone gets together to celebrate, like my debut. “I don’t really feel any pressure about being a professional from an Asian background. My family have been a great help with that, just telling me to enjoy it. “If I turned around tomorrow and said I didn’t want to play football any more they would support me. I really have their backing no matter what I don’t feel any pressure.” Liverpool Rhian Brewster An obvious choice after his goalscoring heroics at the Under-17 World Cup. Brewster actually hails from east London, and joined Liverpool from Chelsea's academy aged 15, and has since been fast-tracked into their Under-23 development team. Described as a 'natural striker' by Jurgen Klopp, Brewster has inevitably attracted comparisons to former Melwood whirlwinds Robbie Fowler and Michael Owen.  His eight goals at the World Cup were evidence of intuitive anticipation in the penalty area, but interestingly Brewster has worn the No.10 shirt for Liverpool's youth teams. A glance at his highlights show a player happy to drop off the last line of defence to link play and provide for others, though this might be a reflection of the fact he is comfortably the best player in his age group. These skills might be redundant as he develops into a centre forward at senior level, but the ability to fit into a collective is important in today's game - particularly under Jurgen Klopp. Just ask Daniel Sturridge.  Manchester City Phil Foden Like Chelsea, Man City have a treasure trove of promising players coming through. Brahim Diaz should be mentioned in dispatches, but Phil Foden is the apple of Pep Guardiola's eye. Comfortable in any midfield role, the 17-year-old has already been called up to train with City's first team and would have played against Wolves in the Carabao Cup but for England commitments at the World Cup in India. He played his part in their victory over Spain in the final, scoring twice.  Foden impressed in a pre-season outing against Manchester United this summer, rarely taking more than two touches as a he fitted seamlessly into Guardiola's style of play. Opponents will note he is strongly left-footed, but his spatial awareness and scanning of the pitch means he moves the ball quickly enough before they can force him onto his right. There will be comparisons with Wilshere, but Foden is probably more of a passer than a dribbler.  Rhian Brewster and Phil Foden's mantelpieces will be full after their summer success Credit: PA Manchester United Axel Tuanzebe  As Jose Mourinho prioritised the Europa League in the closing stretch of last season, Tuanzebe got some first-team minutes, notably away at Arsenal. The 20-year-old's favourite position is centre-back, but his opportunities at senior level could come as a full-back while he has also played in central midfield. His signature move is the way he changes gear and drives away from opponents, and his calmness in possession puts Phil Jones and Chris Smalling to shame. With the latter likely to be moved on by Jose Mourinho before too long, a pathway could open up for Tuanzebe.  Newcastle United Dan Barlaser Born in Gateshead but a Turker Under-17 international, Barlaser has just signed a contract extension to keep him at Newcastle until 2019. The 20-year-old midfielder has made three first-team appearances, and is regarded as an energetic midfielder. A former winger, Barlaser looks to control games with his passing range and also likes to shoot from distance. Rafael Benitez will plump for experience as Newcastle look to secure Premier League survival, but it has been too long since Newcastle fans really grew to love a local lad.  Southampton  Callum Slattery  An England international at youth level, Slattery signed a three-year-contract with Southampton this summer which is a mark of the club's faith in the young midfielder. Hoping to follow the likes of Callum Chambers, Matt Targett, Luke Shaw, Jack Stephens and Josh Sims and progress to Southampton's first team, Slattery is viewed as a box-to-box midfielder. The 18-year-old is yet to make a senior appearance on the south coast, and with the amount of competition in Southampton's midfield that is unlikely to change soon. If only he was a striker...  Callum Slattery in action against Cardiff's Under-23s Credit: Getty Images Stoke City Tyrese Campbell Son of pin-stripped former Arsenal and Everton striker Kevin Campbell, Tyrese was picked out by Stoke manager Mark Hughes as a player with the potential to make it at Premier League level. Hughes said: "He and his father clearly looked at his prospects at Man City, a fantastic operation and clearly a great club and a huge stage for any player, but for younger players it is difficult to break through. “So we presented to him and said, ‘Listen, if you progress and you fulfil the potential that we think you’ve got then there is going to be that pathway to the first team and it is going to happen quicker than you think possibly’.” Campbell's four goals in Premier League 2 this season have all come from the penalty spot, and coach Glyn Hodges has called on him to be more selfish in front of goal.  Swansea City Joe Rodon Dubbed the 'Welsh John Stones', Rodon has attracted the attention of Celtic and Manchester City with his performances at youth level for club and country. The 20-year-old defender is yet to make his full Swansea debut, but did get to train with Chris Coleman's Wales squad in the March international break along with former teammates Neil Taylor and Ashley Williams.  "The old Swansea boys took care of me and I thought I had got off pretty lightly until they turned around and told me I could not go until I had done my initiation," Rodon recalled to Wales Online.  "I can't thank them enough for that! "I ended up doing 'Ain't No Mountain High Enough' by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Tyrell. "A few of the boys said it was pretty old school for someone of my age, but I'm definitely not going to say if I did it any justice or not!"  Tottenham Hotspur  Marcus Edwards  Mauricio Pochettino has not even bothered to play it cool with Edwards, nicknaming him 'Mini-Messi' at the Spurs training ground. His name has been on the grapevine for a few years now, but Edwards is still only 18. Slight, with a low centre of gravity, Edwards loves to drift to the right flank before cutting inside onto his favoured left-foot. As Pochettino's moniker for him suggests, Edwards loves to carry the fall and commit defenders.  This could potentially stand him in good stead because on thing Spurs lack, for all their qualities, is a wide player with trickery. Their most laboured performances this season have come at Wembley against Burnley, Swansea, Bournemouth and Crystal Palace - teams who put numbers behind the ball and asked Spurs to break them down. The likes of Clinton Njié and Georges-Kévin N'Koudou failed to make the cut, but Edwards could be the final piece in Pochettino's puzzle.  The first of many north London derbies for Marcus Edwards? Credit: Getty Images Watford  Isaac Success He might sound like a minor Martin Amis character, and behave like one off the pitch, but Success is a hugely talented player who Marco Silva believes still has a future at Vicarage Road. The 21-year-old showed enough last season to suggest he might be right, when his pace and ability on the flanks caught the eye. The performances of new singing Richarlison however, might restrict future opportunities.  West Bromwich Albion  Sam Field Tony Pulis is a footballing conservative, so handing eight Premier League appearances to teenage midfielder Sam Field says plenty about his qualities. Pulis even described Field's performance against Chelsea last term as 'smashing'. Despite interest from several Championship clubs this summer, Field has stayed at West Brom to continue his development in the youth teams. Supporting West Brom is a bit of a drag at present, but Field is one reason for optimism.  West Ham United  Declan Rice Reece Oxford will run him close, but Rice could be the long-term answer to the defensive vulnerabilities that have hindered West Ham for so long. The 18-year-old centre back has already tasted Premier League football this season, and Slaven Bilic trusted him to occupy the central position when West Ham played with a back three. There is also evidence of the 'leadership' attributes that coaches crave, as Rice captained West Ham's Under-23s to the Premier League 2 title last season. 

Who is your club's most exciting youth prospect?

Injuries may have forced his hand, but Gareth Southgate won plenty of goodwill from England fans by giving youth a chance against Germany and Brazil. Supporters find themselves rooting for the youngsters in a team for a variety of reasons. Firstly, there is an obvious romantic attachment to those viewed as 'one of your own', players who are more easily related to than your average Premier League player.  Expectation levels are also lowered when there are some fledglings on the team sheet, and because fans are often watching players for the first time their initial instinct is to accentuate good points and turn a blind eye to the bad. A victory is extra special, but any defeat can easily be explained away with 'we had the kids out'. This diffuses the frothing discontent that is so commonplace among fanbases today. So who is your club's most exciting youngster?  Arsenal  Reiss Nelson  Arsenal lost the promising Chris Willock to Benfica last summer and sold Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to Liverpool, but Nelson can ensure fans quickly forget about both. Spurs were interested in him as a nine-year-old, but the red half of north London acted quickly to take him to Hale End - the site of their academy. Although Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Joe Willock and Eddie Nketiah are promising, Nelson is the jewel in the crown.  The 17-year-old is a natural dribbler, gliding past opponents with ease and usually from the right-flank. During his Carabao Cup and Europa League starts this season, Arsene Wenger has employed him as a right-wing back which has curtailed his offensive potential. Expect to see more spectacular performances if he is played in an advanced position.  Nelson regularly started as a No.10 in the youth teams, so has highly developed spacial awareness and ability to cope in confined areas. Whereas Oxlade-Chamberlain more of a bustling 'push and run' dribbler, Nelson keeps the ball a little closer to him - not unlike his teammate Jack Wilshere, and also has a talent for scoring free-kicks.  Reiss Nelson is Arsenal's best young prospect Credit: Getty Images Bournemouth  Lewis Cook Centre back Brennan Camp, 17, could prove Bournemouth's next homegrown prospect but their best youngster is in fact a recruit from Leeds United. Cook received an England call-up in the last international break, and might well get more opportunities given England's lack of central midfield options. He also played on the flanks while at Elland Road, and Cook's main strength is his ability to carry the ball from central areas. He shields the ball very well, getting his body between ball and opponent. This also means he wins more duels than a player of his stature has a right to. Bournemouth did not attempt to sign Wilshere on a permanent basis, and Cook could well be the reason for that. Burnley Dwight McNeil   Any 17-year-old playing for an Under-23 team is worthy of attention, even if Burnley's academy is not swollen with talent like some of the bigger clubs. McNeil, who usually plays as a winger, has been singled out for praise by youth team coach and former Burnley defender Michael Duffy.   "He was a first year last year with the 18s with me and you can see he's got ability," Duff said. "It's about honing that and channeling it in the right direction, keeping his feet on the ground. He's scored a couple of goals in front of a Turf Moor crowd of about 100, ideally we want him scoring goals in front of a Turf Moor crowd of 25,000. That's the key." McNeil in Burnley Under-23s top goalscorer this season, and a club on Burnley's frugal budget they need to extract every last ounce of potential from their academy.  Brighton and Hove Albion Jayson Molumby  Midfield partner Dessie Hutchinson deserves a mention - Chris Hughton felt confident enough to start both he a Molumby in the Carabao Cup this season. However, Molumby is two years younger and was nominated for Ireland's Under-17 Player of the Year in 2016 - which was eventually won by West Ham's Declan Rice. Ireland desperately need some fresh blood, although Molumby will find Premier League minutes hard to come by as Brighton fight to stay up.  Chelsea Callum Hudson-Odoi Where do you start at Chelsea? Lewis Baker, Dujon Sterling, Trevoh Chalobah, Ethan Ampadu, Ike Ugbo among others could easily have been our choice. However, Hudson-Odoi's versatility mean he has the potential to grow into numerous different roles. This is important because young players rarely get a first-team chance in their 'natural' position, but instead are used wherever there is a lack of bodies.  Callum Hudson-Odoi in last season's Youth Cup final Credit: Rex Features A World Cup winner with England's Under-17s and provider of three assists in the final against Spain, the Chelsea man can occupy any offensive position across the pitch. Has consistently played 'above his age' at during his time at Stamford Bridge, and only turned 17 on November 7.  Crystal Palace Nya Kirby  In an act of minor revenge for the John Bostock saga, Palace managed to prise Kirby away from Tottenham and the England youth international was part of their pre-season tour of the Far East. Kirby has played most of his football in central midfield, where he likes to dribble with the ball to attract opponents and create space ahead of him.  Kirby is another on this list who was part of England's triumphant Under-17s team in India, and said: “When we met up at the start, everyone had a good winning mentality and we went out there trying to win it.We were there for five weeks but we had a good bunch of lads and it was a great place. The fans were amazing; in the final there were 63,000 in attendance which was incredible.” Everton Jonjoe Kenny  Despite their reputation for giving young players first-team opportunities, a number of prospects have proven dead ends: James Vaughan, Victor Anichebe, Jack Rodwell and even, if his situation remains the same, Ross Barkley.  The generation lead by Tom Davies and Dominic Calvert-Lewin are hoping to be more durable, and young full-back Jonjoe Kenny is particularly well regarded. Everton will need a long-term replacement for Seamus Coleman, and the 20-year-old Kenny is the next cab off the rank. Alexis Sanchez gave him a rough ride in a 5-2 defeat last month, and he sliced one into his own net at Leicester, but such chastening experiences are part of a young player's development. Needs to avoid a serious injury, like the one that thwarted a promising full-back from across Stanley Park, Jon Flanagan.  Huddersfield Town Philip Billing Currently on the treatment table, the 21-year-old Danish midfielder caught the eye in Huddersfield's FA Cup replay at Manchester City last season where Alan Shearer described his performance as 'brilliant'. The club's young player of the year in each of the last two seasons, Billing is a rangy central midfielder who stands out from the pack by virtue of being 6ft 5in tall and left-footed. Long-range strikes at Nottingham Forest and Cardiff City, Huddersfield's goal of the season in their promotion campaign, are proof of sound technique too.  The best young players in world football Leicester City Hamza Choudhury  An impressive afro makes him instantly recognisable, and Choudhury made his senior Leicester debut against Liverpool in the Carabao Cup this season. The 20-year-old grew up in Leicestershire and captained the club's Under-23s team. A midfielder by trade, he benefited from a loan spell with then League One club Burton Albion. His immediate family are from Bangladesh, and he could prove something of a trailblazer as one of the first top-flight British Asian footballers since Fulham's Zesh Rehman more than a decade ago.  Choudbury told the Leicester Mercury:  “Asians have family everywhere. We are all very close, so when something heart-warming happens everyone gets together to celebrate, like my debut. “I don’t really feel any pressure about being a professional from an Asian background. My family have been a great help with that, just telling me to enjoy it. “If I turned around tomorrow and said I didn’t want to play football any more they would support me. I really have their backing no matter what I don’t feel any pressure.” Liverpool Rhian Brewster An obvious choice after his goalscoring heroics at the Under-17 World Cup. Brewster actually hails from east London, and joined Liverpool from Chelsea's academy aged 15, and has since been fast-tracked into their Under-23 development team. Described as a 'natural striker' by Jurgen Klopp, Brewster has inevitably attracted comparisons to former Melwood whirlwinds Robbie Fowler and Michael Owen.  His eight goals at the World Cup were evidence of intuitive anticipation in the penalty area, but interestingly Brewster has worn the No.10 shirt for Liverpool's youth teams. A glance at his highlights show a player happy to drop off the last line of defence to link play and provide for others, though this might be a reflection of the fact he is comfortably the best player in his age group. These skills might be redundant as he develops into a centre forward at senior level, but the ability to fit into a collective is important in today's game - particularly under Jurgen Klopp. Just ask Daniel Sturridge.  Manchester City Phil Foden Like Chelsea, Man City have a treasure trove of promising players coming through. Brahim Diaz should be mentioned in dispatches, but Phil Foden is the apple of Pep Guardiola's eye. Comfortable in any midfield role, the 17-year-old has already been called up to train with City's first team and would have played against Wolves in the Carabao Cup but for England commitments at the World Cup in India. He played his part in their victory over Spain in the final, scoring twice.  Foden impressed in a pre-season outing against Manchester United this summer, rarely taking more than two touches as a he fitted seamlessly into Guardiola's style of play. Opponents will note he is strongly left-footed, but his spatial awareness and scanning of the pitch means he moves the ball quickly enough before they can force him onto his right. There will be comparisons with Wilshere, but Foden is probably more of a passer than a dribbler.  Rhian Brewster and Phil Foden's mantelpieces will be full after their summer success Credit: PA Manchester United Axel Tuanzebe  As Jose Mourinho prioritised the Europa League in the closing stretch of last season, Tuanzebe got some first-team minutes, notably away at Arsenal. The 20-year-old's favourite position is centre-back, but his opportunities at senior level could come as a full-back while he has also played in central midfield. His signature move is the way he changes gear and drives away from opponents, and his calmness in possession puts Phil Jones and Chris Smalling to shame. With the latter likely to be moved on by Jose Mourinho before too long, a pathway could open up for Tuanzebe.  Newcastle United Dan Barlaser Born in Gateshead but a Turker Under-17 international, Barlaser has just signed a contract extension to keep him at Newcastle until 2019. The 20-year-old midfielder has made three first-team appearances, and is regarded as an energetic midfielder. A former winger, Barlaser looks to control games with his passing range and also likes to shoot from distance. Rafael Benitez will plump for experience as Newcastle look to secure Premier League survival, but it has been too long since Newcastle fans really grew to love a local lad.  Southampton  Callum Slattery  An England international at youth level, Slattery signed a three-year-contract with Southampton this summer which is a mark of the club's faith in the young midfielder. Hoping to follow the likes of Callum Chambers, Matt Targett, Luke Shaw, Jack Stephens and Josh Sims and progress to Southampton's first team, Slattery is viewed as a box-to-box midfielder. The 18-year-old is yet to make a senior appearance on the south coast, and with the amount of competition in Southampton's midfield that is unlikely to change soon. If only he was a striker...  Callum Slattery in action against Cardiff's Under-23s Credit: Getty Images Stoke City Tyrese Campbell Son of pin-stripped former Arsenal and Everton striker Kevin Campbell, Tyrese was picked out by Stoke manager Mark Hughes as a player with the potential to make it at Premier League level. Hughes said: "He and his father clearly looked at his prospects at Man City, a fantastic operation and clearly a great club and a huge stage for any player, but for younger players it is difficult to break through. “So we presented to him and said, ‘Listen, if you progress and you fulfil the potential that we think you’ve got then there is going to be that pathway to the first team and it is going to happen quicker than you think possibly’.” Campbell's four goals in Premier League 2 this season have all come from the penalty spot, and coach Glyn Hodges has called on him to be more selfish in front of goal.  Swansea City Joe Rodon Dubbed the 'Welsh John Stones', Rodon has attracted the attention of Celtic and Manchester City with his performances at youth level for club and country. The 20-year-old defender is yet to make his full Swansea debut, but did get to train with Chris Coleman's Wales squad in the March international break along with former teammates Neil Taylor and Ashley Williams.  "The old Swansea boys took care of me and I thought I had got off pretty lightly until they turned around and told me I could not go until I had done my initiation," Rodon recalled to Wales Online.  "I can't thank them enough for that! "I ended up doing 'Ain't No Mountain High Enough' by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Tyrell. "A few of the boys said it was pretty old school for someone of my age, but I'm definitely not going to say if I did it any justice or not!"  Tottenham Hotspur  Marcus Edwards  Mauricio Pochettino has not even bothered to play it cool with Edwards, nicknaming him 'Mini-Messi' at the Spurs training ground. His name has been on the grapevine for a few years now, but Edwards is still only 18. Slight, with a low centre of gravity, Edwards loves to drift to the right flank before cutting inside onto his favoured left-foot. As Pochettino's moniker for him suggests, Edwards loves to carry the fall and commit defenders.  This could potentially stand him in good stead because on thing Spurs lack, for all their qualities, is a wide player with trickery. Their most laboured performances this season have come at Wembley against Burnley, Swansea, Bournemouth and Crystal Palace - teams who put numbers behind the ball and asked Spurs to break them down. The likes of Clinton Njié and Georges-Kévin N'Koudou failed to make the cut, but Edwards could be the final piece in Pochettino's puzzle.  The first of many north London derbies for Marcus Edwards? Credit: Getty Images Watford  Isaac Success He might sound like a minor Martin Amis character, and behave like one off the pitch, but Success is a hugely talented player who Marco Silva believes still has a future at Vicarage Road. The 21-year-old showed enough last season to suggest he might be right, when his pace and ability on the flanks caught the eye. The performances of new singing Richarlison however, might restrict future opportunities.  West Bromwich Albion  Sam Field Tony Pulis is a footballing conservative, so handing eight Premier League appearances to teenage midfielder Sam Field says plenty about his qualities. Pulis even described Field's performance against Chelsea last term as 'smashing'. Despite interest from several Championship clubs this summer, Field has stayed at West Brom to continue his development in the youth teams. Supporting West Brom is a bit of a drag at present, but Field is one reason for optimism.  West Ham United  Declan Rice Reece Oxford will run him close, but Rice could be the long-term answer to the defensive vulnerabilities that have hindered West Ham for so long. The 18-year-old centre back has already tasted Premier League football this season, and Slaven Bilic trusted him to occupy the central position when West Ham played with a back three. There is also evidence of the 'leadership' attributes that coaches crave, as Rice captained West Ham's Under-23s to the Premier League 2 title last season. 

Who is your club's most exciting youth prospect?

Injuries may have forced his hand, but Gareth Southgate won plenty of goodwill from England fans by giving youth a chance against Germany and Brazil. Supporters find themselves rooting for the youngsters in a team for a variety of reasons. Firstly, there is an obvious romantic attachment to those viewed as 'one of your own', players who are more easily related to than your average Premier League player.  Expectation levels are also lowered when there are some fledglings on the team sheet, and because fans are often watching players for the first time their initial instinct is to accentuate good points and turn a blind eye to the bad. A victory is extra special, but any defeat can easily be explained away with 'we had the kids out'. This diffuses the frothing discontent that is so commonplace among fanbases today. So who is your club's most exciting youngster?  Arsenal  Reiss Nelson  Arsenal lost the promising Chris Willock to Benfica last summer and sold Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to Liverpool, but Nelson can ensure fans quickly forget about both. Spurs were interested in him as a nine-year-old, but the red half of north London acted quickly to take him to Hale End - the site of their academy. Although Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Joe Willock and Eddie Nketiah are promising, Nelson is the jewel in the crown.  The 17-year-old is a natural dribbler, gliding past opponents with ease and usually from the right-flank. During his Carabao Cup and Europa League starts this season, Arsene Wenger has employed him as a right-wing back which has curtailed his offensive potential. Expect to see more spectacular performances if he is played in an advanced position.  Nelson regularly started as a No.10 in the youth teams, so has highly developed spacial awareness and ability to cope in confined areas. Whereas Oxlade-Chamberlain more of a bustling 'push and run' dribbler, Nelson keeps the ball a little closer to him - not unlike his teammate Jack Wilshere, and also has a talent for scoring free-kicks.  Reiss Nelson is Arsenal's best young prospect Credit: Getty Images Bournemouth  Lewis Cook Centre back Brennan Camp, 17, could prove Bournemouth's next homegrown prospect but their best youngster is in fact a recruit from Leeds United. Cook received an England call-up in the last international break, and might well get more opportunities given England's lack of central midfield options. He also played on the flanks while at Elland Road, and Cook's main strength is his ability to carry the ball from central areas. He shields the ball very well, getting his body between ball and opponent. This also means he wins more duels than a player of his stature has a right to. Bournemouth did not attempt to sign Wilshere on a permanent basis, and Cook could well be the reason for that. Burnley Dwight McNeil   Any 17-year-old playing for an Under-23 team is worthy of attention, even if Burnley's academy is not swollen with talent like some of the bigger clubs. McNeil, who usually plays as a winger, has been singled out for praise by youth team coach and former Burnley defender Michael Duffy.   "He was a first year last year with the 18s with me and you can see he's got ability," Duff said. "It's about honing that and channeling it in the right direction, keeping his feet on the ground. He's scored a couple of goals in front of a Turf Moor crowd of about 100, ideally we want him scoring goals in front of a Turf Moor crowd of 25,000. That's the key." McNeil in Burnley Under-23s top goalscorer this season, and a club on Burnley's frugal budget they need to extract every last ounce of potential from their academy.  Brighton and Hove Albion Jayson Molumby  Midfield partner Dessie Hutchinson deserves a mention - Chris Hughton felt confident enough to start both he a Molumby in the Carabao Cup this season. However, Molumby is two years younger and was nominated for Ireland's Under-17 Player of the Year in 2016 - which was eventually won by West Ham's Declan Rice. Ireland desperately need some fresh blood, although Molumby will find Premier League minutes hard to come by as Brighton fight to stay up.  Chelsea Callum Hudson-Odoi Where do you start at Chelsea? Lewis Baker, Dujon Sterling, Trevoh Chalobah, Ethan Ampadu, Ike Ugbo among others could easily have been our choice. However, Hudson-Odoi's versatility mean he has the potential to grow into numerous different roles. This is important because young players rarely get a first-team chance in their 'natural' position, but instead are used wherever there is a lack of bodies.  Callum Hudson-Odoi in last season's Youth Cup final Credit: Rex Features A World Cup winner with England's Under-17s and provider of three assists in the final against Spain, the Chelsea man can occupy any offensive position across the pitch. Has consistently played 'above his age' at during his time at Stamford Bridge, and only turned 17 on November 7.  Crystal Palace Nya Kirby  In an act of minor revenge for the John Bostock saga, Palace managed to prise Kirby away from Tottenham and the England youth international was part of their pre-season tour of the Far East. Kirby has played most of his football in central midfield, where he likes to dribble with the ball to attract opponents and create space ahead of him.  Kirby is another on this list who was part of England's triumphant Under-17s team in India, and said: “When we met up at the start, everyone had a good winning mentality and we went out there trying to win it.We were there for five weeks but we had a good bunch of lads and it was a great place. The fans were amazing; in the final there were 63,000 in attendance which was incredible.” Everton Jonjoe Kenny  Despite their reputation for giving young players first-team opportunities, a number of prospects have proven dead ends: James Vaughan, Victor Anichebe, Jack Rodwell and even, if his situation remains the same, Ross Barkley.  The generation lead by Tom Davies and Dominic Calvert-Lewin are hoping to be more durable, and young full-back Jonjoe Kenny is particularly well regarded. Everton will need a long-term replacement for Seamus Coleman, and the 20-year-old Kenny is the next cab off the rank. Alexis Sanchez gave him a rough ride in a 5-2 defeat last month, and he sliced one into his own net at Leicester, but such chastening experiences are part of a young player's development. Needs to avoid a serious injury, like the one that thwarted a promising full-back from across Stanley Park, Jon Flanagan.  Huddersfield Town Philip Billing Currently on the treatment table, the 21-year-old Danish midfielder caught the eye in Huddersfield's FA Cup replay at Manchester City last season where Alan Shearer described his performance as 'brilliant'. The club's young player of the year in each of the last two seasons, Billing is a rangy central midfielder who stands out from the pack by virtue of being 6ft 5in tall and left-footed. Long-range strikes at Nottingham Forest and Cardiff City, Huddersfield's goal of the season in their promotion campaign, are proof of sound technique too.  The best young players in world football Leicester City Hamza Choudhury  An impressive afro makes him instantly recognisable, and Choudhury made his senior Leicester debut against Liverpool in the Carabao Cup this season. The 20-year-old grew up in Leicestershire and captained the club's Under-23s team. A midfielder by trade, he benefited from a loan spell with then League One club Burton Albion. His immediate family are from Bangladesh, and he could prove something of a trailblazer as one of the first top-flight British Asian footballers since Fulham's Zesh Rehman more than a decade ago.  Choudbury told the Leicester Mercury:  “Asians have family everywhere. We are all very close, so when something heart-warming happens everyone gets together to celebrate, like my debut. “I don’t really feel any pressure about being a professional from an Asian background. My family have been a great help with that, just telling me to enjoy it. “If I turned around tomorrow and said I didn’t want to play football any more they would support me. I really have their backing no matter what I don’t feel any pressure.” Liverpool Rhian Brewster An obvious choice after his goalscoring heroics at the Under-17 World Cup. Brewster actually hails from east London, and joined Liverpool from Chelsea's academy aged 15, and has since been fast-tracked into their Under-23 development team. Described as a 'natural striker' by Jurgen Klopp, Brewster has inevitably attracted comparisons to former Melwood whirlwinds Robbie Fowler and Michael Owen.  His eight goals at the World Cup were evidence of intuitive anticipation in the penalty area, but interestingly Brewster has worn the No.10 shirt for Liverpool's youth teams. A glance at his highlights show a player happy to drop off the last line of defence to link play and provide for others, though this might be a reflection of the fact he is comfortably the best player in his age group. These skills might be redundant as he develops into a centre forward at senior level, but the ability to fit into a collective is important in today's game - particularly under Jurgen Klopp. Just ask Daniel Sturridge.  Manchester City Phil Foden Like Chelsea, Man City have a treasure trove of promising players coming through. Brahim Diaz should be mentioned in dispatches, but Phil Foden is the apple of Pep Guardiola's eye. Comfortable in any midfield role, the 17-year-old has already been called up to train with City's first team and would have played against Wolves in the Carabao Cup but for England commitments at the World Cup in India. He played his part in their victory over Spain in the final, scoring twice.  Foden impressed in a pre-season outing against Manchester United this summer, rarely taking more than two touches as a he fitted seamlessly into Guardiola's style of play. Opponents will note he is strongly left-footed, but his spatial awareness and scanning of the pitch means he moves the ball quickly enough before they can force him onto his right. There will be comparisons with Wilshere, but Foden is probably more of a passer than a dribbler.  Rhian Brewster and Phil Foden's mantelpieces will be full after their summer success Credit: PA Manchester United Axel Tuanzebe  As Jose Mourinho prioritised the Europa League in the closing stretch of last season, Tuanzebe got some first-team minutes, notably away at Arsenal. The 20-year-old's favourite position is centre-back, but his opportunities at senior level could come as a full-back while he has also played in central midfield. His signature move is the way he changes gear and drives away from opponents, and his calmness in possession puts Phil Jones and Chris Smalling to shame. With the latter likely to be moved on by Jose Mourinho before too long, a pathway could open up for Tuanzebe.  Newcastle United Dan Barlaser Born in Gateshead but a Turker Under-17 international, Barlaser has just signed a contract extension to keep him at Newcastle until 2019. The 20-year-old midfielder has made three first-team appearances, and is regarded as an energetic midfielder. A former winger, Barlaser looks to control games with his passing range and also likes to shoot from distance. Rafael Benitez will plump for experience as Newcastle look to secure Premier League survival, but it has been too long since Newcastle fans really grew to love a local lad.  Southampton  Callum Slattery  An England international at youth level, Slattery signed a three-year-contract with Southampton this summer which is a mark of the club's faith in the young midfielder. Hoping to follow the likes of Callum Chambers, Matt Targett, Luke Shaw, Jack Stephens and Josh Sims and progress to Southampton's first team, Slattery is viewed as a box-to-box midfielder. The 18-year-old is yet to make a senior appearance on the south coast, and with the amount of competition in Southampton's midfield that is unlikely to change soon. If only he was a striker...  Callum Slattery in action against Cardiff's Under-23s Credit: Getty Images Stoke City Tyrese Campbell Son of pin-stripped former Arsenal and Everton striker Kevin Campbell, Tyrese was picked out by Stoke manager Mark Hughes as a player with the potential to make it at Premier League level. Hughes said: "He and his father clearly looked at his prospects at Man City, a fantastic operation and clearly a great club and a huge stage for any player, but for younger players it is difficult to break through. “So we presented to him and said, ‘Listen, if you progress and you fulfil the potential that we think you’ve got then there is going to be that pathway to the first team and it is going to happen quicker than you think possibly’.” Campbell's four goals in Premier League 2 this season have all come from the penalty spot, and coach Glyn Hodges has called on him to be more selfish in front of goal.  Swansea City Joe Rodon Dubbed the 'Welsh John Stones', Rodon has attracted the attention of Celtic and Manchester City with his performances at youth level for club and country. The 20-year-old defender is yet to make his full Swansea debut, but did get to train with Chris Coleman's Wales squad in the March international break along with former teammates Neil Taylor and Ashley Williams.  "The old Swansea boys took care of me and I thought I had got off pretty lightly until they turned around and told me I could not go until I had done my initiation," Rodon recalled to Wales Online.  "I can't thank them enough for that! "I ended up doing 'Ain't No Mountain High Enough' by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Tyrell. "A few of the boys said it was pretty old school for someone of my age, but I'm definitely not going to say if I did it any justice or not!"  Tottenham Hotspur  Marcus Edwards  Mauricio Pochettino has not even bothered to play it cool with Edwards, nicknaming him 'Mini-Messi' at the Spurs training ground. His name has been on the grapevine for a few years now, but Edwards is still only 18. Slight, with a low centre of gravity, Edwards loves to drift to the right flank before cutting inside onto his favoured left-foot. As Pochettino's moniker for him suggests, Edwards loves to carry the fall and commit defenders.  This could potentially stand him in good stead because on thing Spurs lack, for all their qualities, is a wide player with trickery. Their most laboured performances this season have come at Wembley against Burnley, Swansea, Bournemouth and Crystal Palace - teams who put numbers behind the ball and asked Spurs to break them down. The likes of Clinton Njié and Georges-Kévin N'Koudou failed to make the cut, but Edwards could be the final piece in Pochettino's puzzle.  The first of many north London derbies for Marcus Edwards? Credit: Getty Images Watford  Isaac Success He might sound like a minor Martin Amis character, and behave like one off the pitch, but Success is a hugely talented player who Marco Silva believes still has a future at Vicarage Road. The 21-year-old showed enough last season to suggest he might be right, when his pace and ability on the flanks caught the eye. The performances of new singing Richarlison however, might restrict future opportunities.  West Bromwich Albion  Sam Field Tony Pulis is a footballing conservative, so handing eight Premier League appearances to teenage midfielder Sam Field says plenty about his qualities. Pulis even described Field's performance against Chelsea last term as 'smashing'. Despite interest from several Championship clubs this summer, Field has stayed at West Brom to continue his development in the youth teams. Supporting West Brom is a bit of a drag at present, but Field is one reason for optimism.  West Ham United  Declan Rice Reece Oxford will run him close, but Rice could be the long-term answer to the defensive vulnerabilities that have hindered West Ham for so long. The 18-year-old centre back has already tasted Premier League football this season, and Slaven Bilic trusted him to occupy the central position when West Ham played with a back three. There is also evidence of the 'leadership' attributes that coaches crave, as Rice captained West Ham's Under-23s to the Premier League 2 title last season. 

Who is your club's most exciting youth prospect?

Injuries may have forced his hand, but Gareth Southgate won plenty of goodwill from England fans by giving youth a chance against Germany and Brazil. Supporters find themselves rooting for the youngsters in a team for a variety of reasons. Firstly, there is an obvious romantic attachment to those viewed as 'one of your own', players who are more easily related to than your average Premier League player.  Expectation levels are also lowered when there are some fledglings on the team sheet, and because fans are often watching players for the first time their initial instinct is to accentuate good points and turn a blind eye to the bad. A victory is extra special, but any defeat can easily be explained away with 'we had the kids out'. This diffuses the frothing discontent that is so commonplace among fanbases today. So who is your club's most exciting youngster?  Arsenal  Reiss Nelson  Arsenal lost the promising Chris Willock to Benfica last summer and sold Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to Liverpool, but Nelson can ensure fans quickly forget about both. Spurs were interested in him as a nine-year-old, but the red half of north London acted quickly to take him to Hale End - the site of their academy. Although Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Joe Willock and Eddie Nketiah are promising, Nelson is the jewel in the crown.  The 17-year-old is a natural dribbler, gliding past opponents with ease and usually from the right-flank. During his Carabao Cup and Europa League starts this season, Arsene Wenger has employed him as a right-wing back which has curtailed his offensive potential. Expect to see more spectacular performances if he is played in an advanced position.  Nelson regularly started as a No.10 in the youth teams, so has highly developed spacial awareness and ability to cope in confined areas. Whereas Oxlade-Chamberlain more of a bustling 'push and run' dribbler, Nelson keeps the ball a little closer to him - not unlike his teammate Jack Wilshere, and also has a talent for scoring free-kicks.  Reiss Nelson is Arsenal's best young prospect Credit: Getty Images Bournemouth  Lewis Cook Centre back Brennan Camp, 17, could prove Bournemouth's next homegrown prospect but their best youngster is in fact a recruit from Leeds United. Cook received an England call-up in the last international break, and might well get more opportunities given England's lack of central midfield options. He also played on the flanks while at Elland Road, and Cook's main strength is his ability to carry the ball from central areas. He shields the ball very well, getting his body between ball and opponent. This also means he wins more duels than a player of his stature has a right to. Bournemouth did not attempt to sign Wilshere on a permanent basis, and Cook could well be the reason for that. Burnley Dwight McNeil   Any 17-year-old playing for an Under-23 team is worthy of attention, even if Burnley's academy is not swollen with talent like some of the bigger clubs. McNeil, who usually plays as a winger, has been singled out for praise by youth team coach and former Burnley defender Michael Duffy.   "He was a first year last year with the 18s with me and you can see he's got ability," Duff said. "It's about honing that and channeling it in the right direction, keeping his feet on the ground. He's scored a couple of goals in front of a Turf Moor crowd of about 100, ideally we want him scoring goals in front of a Turf Moor crowd of 25,000. That's the key." McNeil in Burnley Under-23s top goalscorer this season, and a club on Burnley's frugal budget they need to extract every last ounce of potential from their academy.  Brighton and Hove Albion Jayson Molumby  Midfield partner Dessie Hutchinson deserves a mention - Chris Hughton felt confident enough to start both he a Molumby in the Carabao Cup this season. However, Molumby is two years younger and was nominated for Ireland's Under-17 Player of the Year in 2016 - which was eventually won by West Ham's Declan Rice. Ireland desperately need some fresh blood, although Molumby will find Premier League minutes hard to come by as Brighton fight to stay up.  Chelsea Callum Hudson-Odoi Where do you start at Chelsea? Lewis Baker, Dujon Sterling, Trevoh Chalobah, Ethan Ampadu, Ike Ugbo among others could easily have been our choice. However, Hudson-Odoi's versatility mean he has the potential to grow into numerous different roles. This is important because young players rarely get a first-team chance in their 'natural' position, but instead are used wherever there is a lack of bodies.  Callum Hudson-Odoi in last season's Youth Cup final Credit: Rex Features A World Cup winner with England's Under-17s and provider of three assists in the final against Spain, the Chelsea man can occupy any offensive position across the pitch. Has consistently played 'above his age' at during his time at Stamford Bridge, and only turned 17 on November 7.  Crystal Palace Nya Kirby  In an act of minor revenge for the John Bostock saga, Palace managed to prise Kirby away from Tottenham and the England youth international was part of their pre-season tour of the Far East. Kirby has played most of his football in central midfield, where he likes to dribble with the ball to attract opponents and create space ahead of him.  Kirby is another on this list who was part of England's triumphant Under-17s team in India, and said: “When we met up at the start, everyone had a good winning mentality and we went out there trying to win it.We were there for five weeks but we had a good bunch of lads and it was a great place. The fans were amazing; in the final there were 63,000 in attendance which was incredible.” Everton Jonjoe Kenny  Despite their reputation for giving young players first-team opportunities, a number of prospects have proven dead ends: James Vaughan, Victor Anichebe, Jack Rodwell and even, if his situation remains the same, Ross Barkley.  The generation lead by Tom Davies and Dominic Calvert-Lewin are hoping to be more durable, and young full-back Jonjoe Kenny is particularly well regarded. Everton will need a long-term replacement for Seamus Coleman, and the 20-year-old Kenny is the next cab off the rank. Alexis Sanchez gave him a rough ride in a 5-2 defeat last month, and he sliced one into his own net at Leicester, but such chastening experiences are part of a young player's development. Needs to avoid a serious injury, like the one that thwarted a promising full-back from across Stanley Park, Jon Flanagan.  Huddersfield Town Philip Billing Currently on the treatment table, the 21-year-old Danish midfielder caught the eye in Huddersfield's FA Cup replay at Manchester City last season where Alan Shearer described his performance as 'brilliant'. The club's young player of the year in each of the last two seasons, Billing is a rangy central midfielder who stands out from the pack by virtue of being 6ft 5in tall and left-footed. Long-range strikes at Nottingham Forest and Cardiff City, Huddersfield's goal of the season in their promotion campaign, are proof of sound technique too.  The best young players in world football Leicester City Hamza Choudhury  An impressive afro makes him instantly recognisable, and Choudhury made his senior Leicester debut against Liverpool in the Carabao Cup this season. The 20-year-old grew up in Leicestershire and captained the club's Under-23s team. A midfielder by trade, he benefited from a loan spell with then League One club Burton Albion. His immediate family are from Bangladesh, and he could prove something of a trailblazer as one of the first top-flight British Asian footballers since Fulham's Zesh Rehman more than a decade ago.  Choudbury told the Leicester Mercury:  “Asians have family everywhere. We are all very close, so when something heart-warming happens everyone gets together to celebrate, like my debut. “I don’t really feel any pressure about being a professional from an Asian background. My family have been a great help with that, just telling me to enjoy it. “If I turned around tomorrow and said I didn’t want to play football any more they would support me. I really have their backing no matter what I don’t feel any pressure.” Liverpool Rhian Brewster An obvious choice after his goalscoring heroics at the Under-17 World Cup. Brewster actually hails from east London, and joined Liverpool from Chelsea's academy aged 15, and has since been fast-tracked into their Under-23 development team. Described as a 'natural striker' by Jurgen Klopp, Brewster has inevitably attracted comparisons to former Melwood whirlwinds Robbie Fowler and Michael Owen.  His eight goals at the World Cup were evidence of intuitive anticipation in the penalty area, but interestingly Brewster has worn the No.10 shirt for Liverpool's youth teams. A glance at his highlights show a player happy to drop off the last line of defence to link play and provide for others, though this might be a reflection of the fact he is comfortably the best player in his age group. These skills might be redundant as he develops into a centre forward at senior level, but the ability to fit into a collective is important in today's game - particularly under Jurgen Klopp. Just ask Daniel Sturridge.  Manchester City Phil Foden Like Chelsea, Man City have a treasure trove of promising players coming through. Brahim Diaz should be mentioned in dispatches, but Phil Foden is the apple of Pep Guardiola's eye. Comfortable in any midfield role, the 17-year-old has already been called up to train with City's first team and would have played against Wolves in the Carabao Cup but for England commitments at the World Cup in India. He played his part in their victory over Spain in the final, scoring twice.  Foden impressed in a pre-season outing against Manchester United this summer, rarely taking more than two touches as a he fitted seamlessly into Guardiola's style of play. Opponents will note he is strongly left-footed, but his spatial awareness and scanning of the pitch means he moves the ball quickly enough before they can force him onto his right. There will be comparisons with Wilshere, but Foden is probably more of a passer than a dribbler.  Rhian Brewster and Phil Foden's mantelpieces will be full after their summer success Credit: PA Manchester United Axel Tuanzebe  As Jose Mourinho prioritised the Europa League in the closing stretch of last season, Tuanzebe got some first-team minutes, notably away at Arsenal. The 20-year-old's favourite position is centre-back, but his opportunities at senior level could come as a full-back while he has also played in central midfield. His signature move is the way he changes gear and drives away from opponents, and his calmness in possession puts Phil Jones and Chris Smalling to shame. With the latter likely to be moved on by Jose Mourinho before too long, a pathway could open up for Tuanzebe.  Newcastle United Dan Barlaser Born in Gateshead but a Turker Under-17 international, Barlaser has just signed a contract extension to keep him at Newcastle until 2019. The 20-year-old midfielder has made three first-team appearances, and is regarded as an energetic midfielder. A former winger, Barlaser looks to control games with his passing range and also likes to shoot from distance. Rafael Benitez will plump for experience as Newcastle look to secure Premier League survival, but it has been too long since Newcastle fans really grew to love a local lad.  Southampton  Callum Slattery  An England international at youth level, Slattery signed a three-year-contract with Southampton this summer which is a mark of the club's faith in the young midfielder. Hoping to follow the likes of Callum Chambers, Matt Targett, Luke Shaw, Jack Stephens and Josh Sims and progress to Southampton's first team, Slattery is viewed as a box-to-box midfielder. The 18-year-old is yet to make a senior appearance on the south coast, and with the amount of competition in Southampton's midfield that is unlikely to change soon. If only he was a striker...  Callum Slattery in action against Cardiff's Under-23s Credit: Getty Images Stoke City Tyrese Campbell Son of pin-stripped former Arsenal and Everton striker Kevin Campbell, Tyrese was picked out by Stoke manager Mark Hughes as a player with the potential to make it at Premier League level. Hughes said: "He and his father clearly looked at his prospects at Man City, a fantastic operation and clearly a great club and a huge stage for any player, but for younger players it is difficult to break through. “So we presented to him and said, ‘Listen, if you progress and you fulfil the potential that we think you’ve got then there is going to be that pathway to the first team and it is going to happen quicker than you think possibly’.” Campbell's four goals in Premier League 2 this season have all come from the penalty spot, and coach Glyn Hodges has called on him to be more selfish in front of goal.  Swansea City Joe Rodon Dubbed the 'Welsh John Stones', Rodon has attracted the attention of Celtic and Manchester City with his performances at youth level for club and country. The 20-year-old defender is yet to make his full Swansea debut, but did get to train with Chris Coleman's Wales squad in the March international break along with former teammates Neil Taylor and Ashley Williams.  "The old Swansea boys took care of me and I thought I had got off pretty lightly until they turned around and told me I could not go until I had done my initiation," Rodon recalled to Wales Online.  "I can't thank them enough for that! "I ended up doing 'Ain't No Mountain High Enough' by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Tyrell. "A few of the boys said it was pretty old school for someone of my age, but I'm definitely not going to say if I did it any justice or not!"  Tottenham Hotspur  Marcus Edwards  Mauricio Pochettino has not even bothered to play it cool with Edwards, nicknaming him 'Mini-Messi' at the Spurs training ground. His name has been on the grapevine for a few years now, but Edwards is still only 18. Slight, with a low centre of gravity, Edwards loves to drift to the right flank before cutting inside onto his favoured left-foot. As Pochettino's moniker for him suggests, Edwards loves to carry the fall and commit defenders.  This could potentially stand him in good stead because on thing Spurs lack, for all their qualities, is a wide player with trickery. Their most laboured performances this season have come at Wembley against Burnley, Swansea, Bournemouth and Crystal Palace - teams who put numbers behind the ball and asked Spurs to break them down. The likes of Clinton Njié and Georges-Kévin N'Koudou failed to make the cut, but Edwards could be the final piece in Pochettino's puzzle.  The first of many north London derbies for Marcus Edwards? Credit: Getty Images Watford  Isaac Success He might sound like a minor Martin Amis character, and behave like one off the pitch, but Success is a hugely talented player who Marco Silva believes still has a future at Vicarage Road. The 21-year-old showed enough last season to suggest he might be right, when his pace and ability on the flanks caught the eye. The performances of new singing Richarlison however, might restrict future opportunities.  West Bromwich Albion  Sam Field Tony Pulis is a footballing conservative, so handing eight Premier League appearances to teenage midfielder Sam Field says plenty about his qualities. Pulis even described Field's performance against Chelsea last term as 'smashing'. Despite interest from several Championship clubs this summer, Field has stayed at West Brom to continue his development in the youth teams. Supporting West Brom is a bit of a drag at present, but Field is one reason for optimism.  West Ham United  Declan Rice Reece Oxford will run him close, but Rice could be the long-term answer to the defensive vulnerabilities that have hindered West Ham for so long. The 18-year-old centre back has already tasted Premier League football this season, and Slaven Bilic trusted him to occupy the central position when West Ham played with a back three. There is also evidence of the 'leadership' attributes that coaches crave, as Rice captained West Ham's Under-23s to the Premier League 2 title last season. 

Who is your club's most exciting youth prospect?

Injuries may have forced his hand, but Gareth Southgate won plenty of goodwill from England fans by giving youth a chance against Germany and Brazil. Supporters find themselves rooting for the youngsters in a team for a variety of reasons. Firstly, there is an obvious romantic attachment to those viewed as 'one of your own', players who are more easily related to than your average Premier League player.  Expectation levels are also lowered when there are some fledglings on the team sheet, and because fans are often watching players for the first time their initial instinct is to accentuate good points and turn a blind eye to the bad. A victory is extra special, but any defeat can easily be explained away with 'we had the kids out'. This diffuses the frothing discontent that is so commonplace among fanbases today. So who is your club's most exciting youngster?  Arsenal  Reiss Nelson  Arsenal lost the promising Chris Willock to Benfica last summer and sold Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to Liverpool, but Nelson can ensure fans quickly forget about both. Spurs were interested in him as a nine-year-old, but the red half of north London acted quickly to take him to Hale End - the site of their academy. Although Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Joe Willock and Eddie Nketiah are promising, Nelson is the jewel in the crown.  The 17-year-old is a natural dribbler, gliding past opponents with ease and usually from the right-flank. During his Carabao Cup and Europa League starts this season, Arsene Wenger has employed him as a right-wing back which has curtailed his offensive potential. Expect to see more spectacular performances if he is played in an advanced position.  Nelson regularly started as a No.10 in the youth teams, so has highly developed spacial awareness and ability to cope in confined areas. Whereas Oxlade-Chamberlain more of a bustling 'push and run' dribbler, Nelson keeps the ball a little closer to him - not unlike his teammate Jack Wilshere, and also has a talent for scoring free-kicks.  Reiss Nelson is Arsenal's best young prospect Credit: Getty Images Bournemouth  Lewis Cook Centre back Brennan Camp, 17, could prove Bournemouth's next homegrown prospect but their best youngster is in fact a recruit from Leeds United. Cook received an England call-up in the last international break, and might well get more opportunities given England's lack of central midfield options. He also played on the flanks while at Elland Road, and Cook's main strength is his ability to carry the ball from central areas. He shields the ball very well, getting his body between ball and opponent. This also means he wins more duels than a player of his stature has a right to. Bournemouth did not attempt to sign Wilshere on a permanent basis, and Cook could well be the reason for that. Burnley Dwight McNeil   Any 17-year-old playing for an Under-23 team is worthy of attention, even if Burnley's academy is not swollen with talent like some of the bigger clubs. McNeil, who usually plays as a winger, has been singled out for praise by youth team coach and former Burnley defender Michael Duffy.   "He was a first year last year with the 18s with me and you can see he's got ability," Duff said. "It's about honing that and channeling it in the right direction, keeping his feet on the ground. He's scored a couple of goals in front of a Turf Moor crowd of about 100, ideally we want him scoring goals in front of a Turf Moor crowd of 25,000. That's the key." McNeil in Burnley Under-23s top goalscorer this season, and a club on Burnley's frugal budget they need to extract every last ounce of potential from their academy.  Brighton and Hove Albion Jayson Molumby  Midfield partner Dessie Hutchinson deserves a mention - Chris Hughton felt confident enough to start both he a Molumby in the Carabao Cup this season. However, Molumby is two years younger and was nominated for Ireland's Under-17 Player of the Year in 2016 - which was eventually won by West Ham's Declan Rice. Ireland desperately need some fresh blood, although Molumby will find Premier League minutes hard to come by as Brighton fight to stay up.  Chelsea Callum Hudson-Odoi Where do you start at Chelsea? Lewis Baker, Dujon Sterling, Trevoh Chalobah, Ethan Ampadu, Ike Ugbo among others could easily have been our choice. However, Hudson-Odoi's versatility mean he has the potential to grow into numerous different roles. This is important because young players rarely get a first-team chance in their 'natural' position, but instead are used wherever there is a lack of bodies.  Callum Hudson-Odoi in last season's Youth Cup final Credit: Rex Features A World Cup winner with England's Under-17s and provider of three assists in the final against Spain, the Chelsea man can occupy any offensive position across the pitch. Has consistently played 'above his age' at during his time at Stamford Bridge, and only turned 17 on November 7.  Crystal Palace Nya Kirby  In an act of minor revenge for the John Bostock saga, Palace managed to prise Kirby away from Tottenham and the England youth international was part of their pre-season tour of the Far East. Kirby has played most of his football in central midfield, where he likes to dribble with the ball to attract opponents and create space ahead of him.  Kirby is another on this list who was part of England's triumphant Under-17s team in India, and said: “When we met up at the start, everyone had a good winning mentality and we went out there trying to win it.We were there for five weeks but we had a good bunch of lads and it was a great place. The fans were amazing; in the final there were 63,000 in attendance which was incredible.” Everton Jonjoe Kenny  Despite their reputation for giving young players first-team opportunities, a number of prospects have proven dead ends: James Vaughan, Victor Anichebe, Jack Rodwell and even, if his situation remains the same, Ross Barkley.  The generation lead by Tom Davies and Dominic Calvert-Lewin are hoping to be more durable, and young full-back Jonjoe Kenny is particularly well regarded. Everton will need a long-term replacement for Seamus Coleman, and the 20-year-old Kenny is the next cab off the rank. Alexis Sanchez gave him a rough ride in a 5-2 defeat last month, and he sliced one into his own net at Leicester, but such chastening experiences are part of a young player's development. Needs to avoid a serious injury, like the one that thwarted a promising full-back from across Stanley Park, Jon Flanagan.  Huddersfield Town Philip Billing Currently on the treatment table, the 21-year-old Danish midfielder caught the eye in Huddersfield's FA Cup replay at Manchester City last season where Alan Shearer described his performance as 'brilliant'. The club's young player of the year in each of the last two seasons, Billing is a rangy central midfielder who stands out from the pack by virtue of being 6ft 5in tall and left-footed. Long-range strikes at Nottingham Forest and Cardiff City, Huddersfield's goal of the season in their promotion campaign, are proof of sound technique too.  The best young players in world football Leicester City Hamza Choudhury  An impressive afro makes him instantly recognisable, and Choudhury made his senior Leicester debut against Liverpool in the Carabao Cup this season. The 20-year-old grew up in Leicestershire and captained the club's Under-23s team. A midfielder by trade, he benefited from a loan spell with then League One club Burton Albion. His immediate family are from Bangladesh, and he could prove something of a trailblazer as one of the first top-flight British Asian footballers since Fulham's Zesh Rehman more than a decade ago.  Choudbury told the Leicester Mercury:  “Asians have family everywhere. We are all very close, so when something heart-warming happens everyone gets together to celebrate, like my debut. “I don’t really feel any pressure about being a professional from an Asian background. My family have been a great help with that, just telling me to enjoy it. “If I turned around tomorrow and said I didn’t want to play football any more they would support me. I really have their backing no matter what I don’t feel any pressure.” Liverpool Rhian Brewster An obvious choice after his goalscoring heroics at the Under-17 World Cup. Brewster actually hails from east London, and joined Liverpool from Chelsea's academy aged 15, and has since been fast-tracked into their Under-23 development team. Described as a 'natural striker' by Jurgen Klopp, Brewster has inevitably attracted comparisons to former Melwood whirlwinds Robbie Fowler and Michael Owen.  His eight goals at the World Cup were evidence of intuitive anticipation in the penalty area, but interestingly Brewster has worn the No.10 shirt for Liverpool's youth teams. A glance at his highlights show a player happy to drop off the last line of defence to link play and provide for others, though this might be a reflection of the fact he is comfortably the best player in his age group. These skills might be redundant as he develops into a centre forward at senior level, but the ability to fit into a collective is important in today's game - particularly under Jurgen Klopp. Just ask Daniel Sturridge.  Manchester City Phil Foden Like Chelsea, Man City have a treasure trove of promising players coming through. Brahim Diaz should be mentioned in dispatches, but Phil Foden is the apple of Pep Guardiola's eye. Comfortable in any midfield role, the 17-year-old has already been called up to train with City's first team and would have played against Wolves in the Carabao Cup but for England commitments at the World Cup in India. He played his part in their victory over Spain in the final, scoring twice.  Foden impressed in a pre-season outing against Manchester United this summer, rarely taking more than two touches as a he fitted seamlessly into Guardiola's style of play. Opponents will note he is strongly left-footed, but his spatial awareness and scanning of the pitch means he moves the ball quickly enough before they can force him onto his right. There will be comparisons with Wilshere, but Foden is probably more of a passer than a dribbler.  Rhian Brewster and Phil Foden's mantelpieces will be full after their summer success Credit: PA Manchester United Axel Tuanzebe  As Jose Mourinho prioritised the Europa League in the closing stretch of last season, Tuanzebe got some first-team minutes, notably away at Arsenal. The 20-year-old's favourite position is centre-back, but his opportunities at senior level could come as a full-back while he has also played in central midfield. His signature move is the way he changes gear and drives away from opponents, and his calmness in possession puts Phil Jones and Chris Smalling to shame. With the latter likely to be moved on by Jose Mourinho before too long, a pathway could open up for Tuanzebe.  Newcastle United Dan Barlaser Born in Gateshead but a Turker Under-17 international, Barlaser has just signed a contract extension to keep him at Newcastle until 2019. The 20-year-old midfielder has made three first-team appearances, and is regarded as an energetic midfielder. A former winger, Barlaser looks to control games with his passing range and also likes to shoot from distance. Rafael Benitez will plump for experience as Newcastle look to secure Premier League survival, but it has been too long since Newcastle fans really grew to love a local lad.  Southampton  Callum Slattery  An England international at youth level, Slattery signed a three-year-contract with Southampton this summer which is a mark of the club's faith in the young midfielder. Hoping to follow the likes of Callum Chambers, Matt Targett, Luke Shaw, Jack Stephens and Josh Sims and progress to Southampton's first team, Slattery is viewed as a box-to-box midfielder. The 18-year-old is yet to make a senior appearance on the south coast, and with the amount of competition in Southampton's midfield that is unlikely to change soon. If only he was a striker...  Callum Slattery in action against Cardiff's Under-23s Credit: Getty Images Stoke City Tyrese Campbell Son of pin-stripped former Arsenal and Everton striker Kevin Campbell, Tyrese was picked out by Stoke manager Mark Hughes as a player with the potential to make it at Premier League level. Hughes said: "He and his father clearly looked at his prospects at Man City, a fantastic operation and clearly a great club and a huge stage for any player, but for younger players it is difficult to break through. “So we presented to him and said, ‘Listen, if you progress and you fulfil the potential that we think you’ve got then there is going to be that pathway to the first team and it is going to happen quicker than you think possibly’.” Campbell's four goals in Premier League 2 this season have all come from the penalty spot, and coach Glyn Hodges has called on him to be more selfish in front of goal.  Swansea City Joe Rodon Dubbed the 'Welsh John Stones', Rodon has attracted the attention of Celtic and Manchester City with his performances at youth level for club and country. The 20-year-old defender is yet to make his full Swansea debut, but did get to train with Chris Coleman's Wales squad in the March international break along with former teammates Neil Taylor and Ashley Williams.  "The old Swansea boys took care of me and I thought I had got off pretty lightly until they turned around and told me I could not go until I had done my initiation," Rodon recalled to Wales Online.  "I can't thank them enough for that! "I ended up doing 'Ain't No Mountain High Enough' by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Tyrell. "A few of the boys said it was pretty old school for someone of my age, but I'm definitely not going to say if I did it any justice or not!"  Tottenham Hotspur  Marcus Edwards  Mauricio Pochettino has not even bothered to play it cool with Edwards, nicknaming him 'Mini-Messi' at the Spurs training ground. His name has been on the grapevine for a few years now, but Edwards is still only 18. Slight, with a low centre of gravity, Edwards loves to drift to the right flank before cutting inside onto his favoured left-foot. As Pochettino's moniker for him suggests, Edwards loves to carry the fall and commit defenders.  This could potentially stand him in good stead because on thing Spurs lack, for all their qualities, is a wide player with trickery. Their most laboured performances this season have come at Wembley against Burnley, Swansea, Bournemouth and Crystal Palace - teams who put numbers behind the ball and asked Spurs to break them down. The likes of Clinton Njié and Georges-Kévin N'Koudou failed to make the cut, but Edwards could be the final piece in Pochettino's puzzle.  The first of many north London derbies for Marcus Edwards? Credit: Getty Images Watford  Isaac Success He might sound like a minor Martin Amis character, and behave like one off the pitch, but Success is a hugely talented player who Marco Silva believes still has a future at Vicarage Road. The 21-year-old showed enough last season to suggest he might be right, when his pace and ability on the flanks caught the eye. The performances of new singing Richarlison however, might restrict future opportunities.  West Bromwich Albion  Sam Field Tony Pulis is a footballing conservative, so handing eight Premier League appearances to teenage midfielder Sam Field says plenty about his qualities. Pulis even described Field's performance against Chelsea last term as 'smashing'. Despite interest from several Championship clubs this summer, Field has stayed at West Brom to continue his development in the youth teams. Supporting West Brom is a bit of a drag at present, but Field is one reason for optimism.  West Ham United  Declan Rice Reece Oxford will run him close, but Rice could be the long-term answer to the defensive vulnerabilities that have hindered West Ham for so long. The 18-year-old centre back has already tasted Premier League football this season, and Slaven Bilic trusted him to occupy the central position when West Ham played with a back three. There is also evidence of the 'leadership' attributes that coaches crave, as Rice captained West Ham's Under-23s to the Premier League 2 title last season. 

Tottenham's top 10 north London derbies against Arsenal: ranked

The main criteria used were importance of the match, entertainment value, and margin of victory. Let the debates ensue... 10. Arsenal 4 Tottenham 4, October 2008 Getting the nod ahead of notable 2-1 victories in 2011 (Rafael van der Vaart and Kyle Walker), 2013 (Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon) and 2015 (Harry Kane at the double), the match at the Emirates in October 2008 did not result in a Spurs win, but must be included in this list because, let’s face it, it certainly felt like a victory. Things began in phenomenal fashion when David Bentley scored his outrageous 40-yard volley and the 1-1 half-time scoreline gave little indication of what was to come. Darren Bent reduced the deficit after Arsenal had taken a 3-1 lead, only for Spurs to ship a fourth almost instantly. Cue Jermaine Jenas curling in a beauty in the final minute of normal time, Aaron Lennon grabbing the most unlikely of equalisers in injury time and complete pandemonium. Tottenham team: Gomes, Hutton, Corluka, Assou-Ekotto, Woodgate, Modric, Jenas, Bentley, Huddlestone, Bale, Pavlyuchenko 9. Tottenham 2 Arsenal 0, April 2017 The end of St Totteringham's Day. Spurs confirmed they would finally finish above Arsenal in the Premier League for the first time in 22 years with an emphatic win at White Hart Lane that kept their slim title hopes alive.  Dele Alli scores the opening goal in Spurs' 2-0 win over Arsenal  Credit: AFP  The victory extended the gap between the two sides to 17 points, confirming the balance of power in north London had well and truly shifted - for now. Collectively, Spurs ran 10km further than their rivals to ensure Arsene Wenger's 50th north London derby ended in defeat. Tottenham team: Lloris, Davies, Vertonghen, Alderweireld, Trippier, Eriksen, Heung min-Son, Dier, Alli, Wanyama, Kane 8. Tottenham 4 Arsenal 2, January 1961 By the time Spurs welcomed Arsenal to White Hart Lane in January 1961, they had already beaten them 3-2 at Highbury early in the season and the march towards a second league title in the club’s history was well and truly on. In fact, it was Arsenal who took an early lead, before Les Allen equalised and Spurs started to assert their dominance. Danny Blanchflower scored from the penalty spot, Bobby Smith added a third and Allen rounded off proceedings with his second of the match. The victory put Spurs eight points clear at the top of the Division One table, which they would win alongside the FA Cup under Bill Nicholson. At that stage it was also only the second time Spurs had completed the league double over Arsenal. Tottenham team: Brown, Baker, Henry, Blanchflower, Norman, Mackay, Jones, White, Smith, Allen, Dyson 7. Arsenal 1 Tottenham 2, January 1985 Standing proud at the top of the Division One table after Christmas for the first time in more than 20 years, Spurs travelled to Highbury on New Year’s Day intent on maintaining their push for the title. Arsenal, who were just four points behind, dominated the first half and took the lead three minutes before the break. Spurs goal 1985 However, a rejuvenated Spurs side inspired by Glenn Hoddle came out for the second half and brought about a reversal in fortunes. Hoddle’s long ball set up Garth Crooks for the equaliser before Mark Falco curled into the corner from the edge of the box to ruin Arsenal’s start to 1985. Unfortunately, given the fine form they were in, Spurs played just two league games in the next two months and lost their momentum, eventually finishing third in the table (four places ahead of Arsenal). Tottenham team: Clemence, Miller, Roberts, Mabbutt, Perryman, Stevens, Galvin, Hoddle, Crooks, Falco, Chiedozie 6. Tottenham 1 Arsenal 0, December 1950 Only promoted to the First Division that summer after a war-extended absence of 15 years from the top flight, Spurs welcomed Arsenal two days before Christmas having dropped just seven points in almost three months. Spurs claimed Division One straight after gaining promotion Credit: getty images Arthur Rowe’s side had drawn against their north-London rivals at the start of the season, but a single goal from Eddie Baily was enough to give Spurs their first win in the match since 1934. The Division One new boys did not let up and went on to win back-to-back titles. Tottenham team: Ditchburn, Ramsey, Willis, Clarke, Burgess, Nicholson, Medley, Duqemin, Walters, Bennett, Baily 5. Tottenham 2 Arsenal 1, April 2010 Two words: ‘Danny’ and ‘Rose’. Ten minutes into his Premier League debut, the Spurs full-back scored a goal that he will forever be associated with for the rest of his career. What possessed him to have a dig from 30 yards as a corner was cleared to him is unknown, but the technique and power of his volley was impeccable and, crucially, gave Spurs an early 1-0 lead. Danny Rose is unlikely to ever score a better goal Credit: action images Gareth Bale doubled the advantage a couple of minutes after the break and, despite Arsenal pulling a late goal back, Harry Redknapp’s side held on to complete a first north London derby league win in 11 years. The result killed off any lingering hopes of Arsenal winning the title, but more significantly kept Spurs on track to qualify for the Champions League for the first time. Tottenham team: Gomes, Kaboul, Dawson, Rose, King, Assou-Ekotto, Huddlestone, Modric, Bale, Pavlyuchenko, Defoe 4. Tottenham 5 Arsenal 0, April 1983 It took five years, but revenge was so sweet when it arrived. Two days before Christmas in 1978, Arsenal had humiliated their nearest rivals with a 5-0 victory at White Hart Lane. Despite lining up without Glenn Hoddle, Ossie Ardiles and Ricky Villa, who were all missing with injuries, Spurs made amends in 1983 by inflicting a record defeat against Arsenal and matching the scoreline from five years earlier. Spurs goal 1983 Chris Hughton scored two, Alan Brazil grabbed one and Mark Falco scored two volleys – one of which must be included in a list of the greatest north London derby goals of all time, thundering it in from the edge of the penalty area. So terrible was Arsenal's defending that the victory margin could so easily have been even bigger. Tottenham team: Clemence, Hughton, O’Reilly, Roberts, Miller, Gibson, Mabbutt, Archibald, Galvin, Brazil, Falco 3. Arsenal 2 Tottenham 3, November 2010 Two goals down at half-time, the story looked all too familiar for the Spurs faithful who had made the short trip to the Emirates Stadium. Goals from Samir Nasri and Marouane Chamakh had put the home side ahead and on course to move top of the Premier League table. Younes Kaboul scored the winner in November 2010 Credit: getty images Instead, Spurs produced one of the finest comebacks in their modern history as Gareth Bale scored five minutes into the second half, Rafael van der Vaart drew level from the penalty spot and Younes Kaboul completed the turnaround just five minutes from time. It was Spurs’ first away victory against Arsenal in 17 years. Tottenham team: Gomes, Hutton, Kaboul, Gallas, Assou-Ekotto, Lennon, Jenas, Van Der Vaart, Modric, Bale, Pavlyuchenko 2. Tottenham 5 Arsenal 1, January 2008 Seventeen years after their FA Cup semi-final triumph (more of which below), Spurs again ran riot in a cup semi-final when they destroyed Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal from start to finish en route to lifting the Carling Cup. Delicately poised at 1-1 after the first leg at the Emirates Stadium, Spurs took the lead just three minutes into the reverse fixture at White Hart Lane thanks to a Jermaine Jenas strike, before a Nicklas Bendtner own-goal doubled the advantage and Robbie Keane, Aaron Lennon and Steed Malbranque sealed the deal. Aaron Lennon was one of five scorers in the 2008 FA Cup semi-final Credit: pa For Spurs fans who had not seen their side beat their north London rivals since 1999, there was no better sight than Bendtner, Emmanuel Adebayor and William Gallas turning on each other near the end of the game. Tottenham team: Cerny, Chimbonda, King, Dawson, Lee Young-Pyo, Lennon, Malbranque, Jenas, Tainio, Keane, Berbatov 1. Tottenham 3 Arsenal 1, April 1991 “Is Gascoigne going to have a crack?” asked Barry Davies, as the finest Spurs player of a generation lined up a 30-yard free-kick. “He is you know.” And what a crack it was. Just five minutes into the 1990/91 FA Cup semi-final, Paul Gascoigne scored one of the greatest goals ever seen at Wembley and set the ball rolling for an historic Spurs win. The injury-ravaged England midfielder had been restricted to just an hour of football prior to the match, but his impact was almost instant and left David Seaman little chance of preventing the bullet strike nestling in the top corner. Gary Lineker doubled the lead five minutes later before sealing victory 12 minutes from time. Terry Venables’ side would go on to beat Nottingham Forest 2-1 in a final that saw Gascoigne stretchered off with a serious knee injury. It was the last time Spurs lifted the FA Cup. Tottenham team: Thorstvedt, Sedgley, Van Den Hauwe, Mabbutt, Edinburgh, Allen, Gascoigne, Howells, Samways, Stewart, Lineker  

Tottenham's top 10 north London derbies against Arsenal: ranked

The main criteria used were importance of the match, entertainment value, and margin of victory. Let the debates ensue... 10. Arsenal 4 Tottenham 4, October 2008 Getting the nod ahead of notable 2-1 victories in 2011 (Rafael van der Vaart and Kyle Walker), 2013 (Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon) and 2015 (Harry Kane at the double), the match at the Emirates in October 2008 did not result in a Spurs win, but must be included in this list because, let’s face it, it certainly felt like a victory. Things began in phenomenal fashion when David Bentley scored his outrageous 40-yard volley and the 1-1 half-time scoreline gave little indication of what was to come. Darren Bent reduced the deficit after Arsenal had taken a 3-1 lead, only for Spurs to ship a fourth almost instantly. Cue Jermaine Jenas curling in a beauty in the final minute of normal time, Aaron Lennon grabbing the most unlikely of equalisers in injury time and complete pandemonium. Tottenham team: Gomes, Hutton, Corluka, Assou-Ekotto, Woodgate, Modric, Jenas, Bentley, Huddlestone, Bale, Pavlyuchenko 9. Tottenham 2 Arsenal 0, April 2017 The end of St Totteringham's Day. Spurs confirmed they would finally finish above Arsenal in the Premier League for the first time in 22 years with an emphatic win at White Hart Lane that kept their slim title hopes alive.  Dele Alli scores the opening goal in Spurs' 2-0 win over Arsenal  Credit: AFP  The victory extended the gap between the two sides to 17 points, confirming the balance of power in north London had well and truly shifted - for now. Collectively, Spurs ran 10km further than their rivals to ensure Arsene Wenger's 50th north London derby ended in defeat. Tottenham team: Lloris, Davies, Vertonghen, Alderweireld, Trippier, Eriksen, Heung min-Son, Dier, Alli, Wanyama, Kane 8. Tottenham 4 Arsenal 2, January 1961 By the time Spurs welcomed Arsenal to White Hart Lane in January 1961, they had already beaten them 3-2 at Highbury early in the season and the march towards a second league title in the club’s history was well and truly on. In fact, it was Arsenal who took an early lead, before Les Allen equalised and Spurs started to assert their dominance. Danny Blanchflower scored from the penalty spot, Bobby Smith added a third and Allen rounded off proceedings with his second of the match. The victory put Spurs eight points clear at the top of the Division One table, which they would win alongside the FA Cup under Bill Nicholson. At that stage it was also only the second time Spurs had completed the league double over Arsenal. Tottenham team: Brown, Baker, Henry, Blanchflower, Norman, Mackay, Jones, White, Smith, Allen, Dyson 7. Arsenal 1 Tottenham 2, January 1985 Standing proud at the top of the Division One table after Christmas for the first time in more than 20 years, Spurs travelled to Highbury on New Year’s Day intent on maintaining their push for the title. Arsenal, who were just four points behind, dominated the first half and took the lead three minutes before the break. Spurs goal 1985 However, a rejuvenated Spurs side inspired by Glenn Hoddle came out for the second half and brought about a reversal in fortunes. Hoddle’s long ball set up Garth Crooks for the equaliser before Mark Falco curled into the corner from the edge of the box to ruin Arsenal’s start to 1985. Unfortunately, given the fine form they were in, Spurs played just two league games in the next two months and lost their momentum, eventually finishing third in the table (four places ahead of Arsenal). Tottenham team: Clemence, Miller, Roberts, Mabbutt, Perryman, Stevens, Galvin, Hoddle, Crooks, Falco, Chiedozie 6. Tottenham 1 Arsenal 0, December 1950 Only promoted to the First Division that summer after a war-extended absence of 15 years from the top flight, Spurs welcomed Arsenal two days before Christmas having dropped just seven points in almost three months. Spurs claimed Division One straight after gaining promotion Credit: getty images Arthur Rowe’s side had drawn against their north-London rivals at the start of the season, but a single goal from Eddie Baily was enough to give Spurs their first win in the match since 1934. The Division One new boys did not let up and went on to win back-to-back titles. Tottenham team: Ditchburn, Ramsey, Willis, Clarke, Burgess, Nicholson, Medley, Duqemin, Walters, Bennett, Baily 5. Tottenham 2 Arsenal 1, April 2010 Two words: ‘Danny’ and ‘Rose’. Ten minutes into his Premier League debut, the Spurs full-back scored a goal that he will forever be associated with for the rest of his career. What possessed him to have a dig from 30 yards as a corner was cleared to him is unknown, but the technique and power of his volley was impeccable and, crucially, gave Spurs an early 1-0 lead. Danny Rose is unlikely to ever score a better goal Credit: action images Gareth Bale doubled the advantage a couple of minutes after the break and, despite Arsenal pulling a late goal back, Harry Redknapp’s side held on to complete a first north London derby league win in 11 years. The result killed off any lingering hopes of Arsenal winning the title, but more significantly kept Spurs on track to qualify for the Champions League for the first time. Tottenham team: Gomes, Kaboul, Dawson, Rose, King, Assou-Ekotto, Huddlestone, Modric, Bale, Pavlyuchenko, Defoe 4. Tottenham 5 Arsenal 0, April 1983 It took five years, but revenge was so sweet when it arrived. Two days before Christmas in 1978, Arsenal had humiliated their nearest rivals with a 5-0 victory at White Hart Lane. Despite lining up without Glenn Hoddle, Ossie Ardiles and Ricky Villa, who were all missing with injuries, Spurs made amends in 1983 by inflicting a record defeat against Arsenal and matching the scoreline from five years earlier. Spurs goal 1983 Chris Hughton scored two, Alan Brazil grabbed one and Mark Falco scored two volleys – one of which must be included in a list of the greatest north London derby goals of all time, thundering it in from the edge of the penalty area. So terrible was Arsenal's defending that the victory margin could so easily have been even bigger. Tottenham team: Clemence, Hughton, O’Reilly, Roberts, Miller, Gibson, Mabbutt, Archibald, Galvin, Brazil, Falco 3. Arsenal 2 Tottenham 3, November 2010 Two goals down at half-time, the story looked all too familiar for the Spurs faithful who had made the short trip to the Emirates Stadium. Goals from Samir Nasri and Marouane Chamakh had put the home side ahead and on course to move top of the Premier League table. Younes Kaboul scored the winner in November 2010 Credit: getty images Instead, Spurs produced one of the finest comebacks in their modern history as Gareth Bale scored five minutes into the second half, Rafael van der Vaart drew level from the penalty spot and Younes Kaboul completed the turnaround just five minutes from time. It was Spurs’ first away victory against Arsenal in 17 years. Tottenham team: Gomes, Hutton, Kaboul, Gallas, Assou-Ekotto, Lennon, Jenas, Van Der Vaart, Modric, Bale, Pavlyuchenko 2. Tottenham 5 Arsenal 1, January 2008 Seventeen years after their FA Cup semi-final triumph (more of which below), Spurs again ran riot in a cup semi-final when they destroyed Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal from start to finish en route to lifting the Carling Cup. Delicately poised at 1-1 after the first leg at the Emirates Stadium, Spurs took the lead just three minutes into the reverse fixture at White Hart Lane thanks to a Jermaine Jenas strike, before a Nicklas Bendtner own-goal doubled the advantage and Robbie Keane, Aaron Lennon and Steed Malbranque sealed the deal. Aaron Lennon was one of five scorers in the 2008 FA Cup semi-final Credit: pa For Spurs fans who had not seen their side beat their north London rivals since 1999, there was no better sight than Bendtner, Emmanuel Adebayor and William Gallas turning on each other near the end of the game. Tottenham team: Cerny, Chimbonda, King, Dawson, Lee Young-Pyo, Lennon, Malbranque, Jenas, Tainio, Keane, Berbatov 1. Tottenham 3 Arsenal 1, April 1991 “Is Gascoigne going to have a crack?” asked Barry Davies, as the finest Spurs player of a generation lined up a 30-yard free-kick. “He is you know.” And what a crack it was. Just five minutes into the 1990/91 FA Cup semi-final, Paul Gascoigne scored one of the greatest goals ever seen at Wembley and set the ball rolling for an historic Spurs win. The injury-ravaged England midfielder had been restricted to just an hour of football prior to the match, but his impact was almost instant and left David Seaman little chance of preventing the bullet strike nestling in the top corner. Gary Lineker doubled the lead five minutes later before sealing victory 12 minutes from time. Terry Venables’ side would go on to beat Nottingham Forest 2-1 in a final that saw Gascoigne stretchered off with a serious knee injury. It was the last time Spurs lifted the FA Cup. Tottenham team: Thorstvedt, Sedgley, Van Den Hauwe, Mabbutt, Edinburgh, Allen, Gascoigne, Howells, Samways, Stewart, Lineker  

Tottenham's top 10 north London derbies against Arsenal: ranked

The main criteria used were importance of the match, entertainment value, and margin of victory. Let the debates ensue... 10. Arsenal 4 Tottenham 4, October 2008 Getting the nod ahead of notable 2-1 victories in 2011 (Rafael van der Vaart and Kyle Walker), 2013 (Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon) and 2015 (Harry Kane at the double), the match at the Emirates in October 2008 did not result in a Spurs win, but must be included in this list because, let’s face it, it certainly felt like a victory. Things began in phenomenal fashion when David Bentley scored his outrageous 40-yard volley and the 1-1 half-time scoreline gave little indication of what was to come. Darren Bent reduced the deficit after Arsenal had taken a 3-1 lead, only for Spurs to ship a fourth almost instantly. Cue Jermaine Jenas curling in a beauty in the final minute of normal time, Aaron Lennon grabbing the most unlikely of equalisers in injury time and complete pandemonium. Tottenham team: Gomes, Hutton, Corluka, Assou-Ekotto, Woodgate, Modric, Jenas, Bentley, Huddlestone, Bale, Pavlyuchenko 9. Tottenham 2 Arsenal 0, April 2017 The end of St Totteringham's Day. Spurs confirmed they would finally finish above Arsenal in the Premier League for the first time in 22 years with an emphatic win at White Hart Lane that kept their slim title hopes alive.  Dele Alli scores the opening goal in Spurs' 2-0 win over Arsenal  Credit: AFP  The victory extended the gap between the two sides to 17 points, confirming the balance of power in north London had well and truly shifted - for now. Collectively, Spurs ran 10km further than their rivals to ensure Arsene Wenger's 50th north London derby ended in defeat. Tottenham team: Lloris, Davies, Vertonghen, Alderweireld, Trippier, Eriksen, Heung min-Son, Dier, Alli, Wanyama, Kane 8. Tottenham 4 Arsenal 2, January 1961 By the time Spurs welcomed Arsenal to White Hart Lane in January 1961, they had already beaten them 3-2 at Highbury early in the season and the march towards a second league title in the club’s history was well and truly on. In fact, it was Arsenal who took an early lead, before Les Allen equalised and Spurs started to assert their dominance. Danny Blanchflower scored from the penalty spot, Bobby Smith added a third and Allen rounded off proceedings with his second of the match. The victory put Spurs eight points clear at the top of the Division One table, which they would win alongside the FA Cup under Bill Nicholson. At that stage it was also only the second time Spurs had completed the league double over Arsenal. Tottenham team: Brown, Baker, Henry, Blanchflower, Norman, Mackay, Jones, White, Smith, Allen, Dyson 7. Arsenal 1 Tottenham 2, January 1985 Standing proud at the top of the Division One table after Christmas for the first time in more than 20 years, Spurs travelled to Highbury on New Year’s Day intent on maintaining their push for the title. Arsenal, who were just four points behind, dominated the first half and took the lead three minutes before the break. Spurs goal 1985 However, a rejuvenated Spurs side inspired by Glenn Hoddle came out for the second half and brought about a reversal in fortunes. Hoddle’s long ball set up Garth Crooks for the equaliser before Mark Falco curled into the corner from the edge of the box to ruin Arsenal’s start to 1985. Unfortunately, given the fine form they were in, Spurs played just two league games in the next two months and lost their momentum, eventually finishing third in the table (four places ahead of Arsenal). Tottenham team: Clemence, Miller, Roberts, Mabbutt, Perryman, Stevens, Galvin, Hoddle, Crooks, Falco, Chiedozie 6. Tottenham 1 Arsenal 0, December 1950 Only promoted to the First Division that summer after a war-extended absence of 15 years from the top flight, Spurs welcomed Arsenal two days before Christmas having dropped just seven points in almost three months. Spurs claimed Division One straight after gaining promotion Credit: getty images Arthur Rowe’s side had drawn against their north-London rivals at the start of the season, but a single goal from Eddie Baily was enough to give Spurs their first win in the match since 1934. The Division One new boys did not let up and went on to win back-to-back titles. Tottenham team: Ditchburn, Ramsey, Willis, Clarke, Burgess, Nicholson, Medley, Duqemin, Walters, Bennett, Baily 5. Tottenham 2 Arsenal 1, April 2010 Two words: ‘Danny’ and ‘Rose’. Ten minutes into his Premier League debut, the Spurs full-back scored a goal that he will forever be associated with for the rest of his career. What possessed him to have a dig from 30 yards as a corner was cleared to him is unknown, but the technique and power of his volley was impeccable and, crucially, gave Spurs an early 1-0 lead. Danny Rose is unlikely to ever score a better goal Credit: action images Gareth Bale doubled the advantage a couple of minutes after the break and, despite Arsenal pulling a late goal back, Harry Redknapp’s side held on to complete a first north London derby league win in 11 years. The result killed off any lingering hopes of Arsenal winning the title, but more significantly kept Spurs on track to qualify for the Champions League for the first time. Tottenham team: Gomes, Kaboul, Dawson, Rose, King, Assou-Ekotto, Huddlestone, Modric, Bale, Pavlyuchenko, Defoe 4. Tottenham 5 Arsenal 0, April 1983 It took five years, but revenge was so sweet when it arrived. Two days before Christmas in 1978, Arsenal had humiliated their nearest rivals with a 5-0 victory at White Hart Lane. Despite lining up without Glenn Hoddle, Ossie Ardiles and Ricky Villa, who were all missing with injuries, Spurs made amends in 1983 by inflicting a record defeat against Arsenal and matching the scoreline from five years earlier. Spurs goal 1983 Chris Hughton scored two, Alan Brazil grabbed one and Mark Falco scored two volleys – one of which must be included in a list of the greatest north London derby goals of all time, thundering it in from the edge of the penalty area. So terrible was Arsenal's defending that the victory margin could so easily have been even bigger. Tottenham team: Clemence, Hughton, O’Reilly, Roberts, Miller, Gibson, Mabbutt, Archibald, Galvin, Brazil, Falco 3. Arsenal 2 Tottenham 3, November 2010 Two goals down at half-time, the story looked all too familiar for the Spurs faithful who had made the short trip to the Emirates Stadium. Goals from Samir Nasri and Marouane Chamakh had put the home side ahead and on course to move top of the Premier League table. Younes Kaboul scored the winner in November 2010 Credit: getty images Instead, Spurs produced one of the finest comebacks in their modern history as Gareth Bale scored five minutes into the second half, Rafael van der Vaart drew level from the penalty spot and Younes Kaboul completed the turnaround just five minutes from time. It was Spurs’ first away victory against Arsenal in 17 years. Tottenham team: Gomes, Hutton, Kaboul, Gallas, Assou-Ekotto, Lennon, Jenas, Van Der Vaart, Modric, Bale, Pavlyuchenko 2. Tottenham 5 Arsenal 1, January 2008 Seventeen years after their FA Cup semi-final triumph (more of which below), Spurs again ran riot in a cup semi-final when they destroyed Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal from start to finish en route to lifting the Carling Cup. Delicately poised at 1-1 after the first leg at the Emirates Stadium, Spurs took the lead just three minutes into the reverse fixture at White Hart Lane thanks to a Jermaine Jenas strike, before a Nicklas Bendtner own-goal doubled the advantage and Robbie Keane, Aaron Lennon and Steed Malbranque sealed the deal. Aaron Lennon was one of five scorers in the 2008 FA Cup semi-final Credit: pa For Spurs fans who had not seen their side beat their north London rivals since 1999, there was no better sight than Bendtner, Emmanuel Adebayor and William Gallas turning on each other near the end of the game. Tottenham team: Cerny, Chimbonda, King, Dawson, Lee Young-Pyo, Lennon, Malbranque, Jenas, Tainio, Keane, Berbatov 1. Tottenham 3 Arsenal 1, April 1991 “Is Gascoigne going to have a crack?” asked Barry Davies, as the finest Spurs player of a generation lined up a 30-yard free-kick. “He is you know.” And what a crack it was. Just five minutes into the 1990/91 FA Cup semi-final, Paul Gascoigne scored one of the greatest goals ever seen at Wembley and set the ball rolling for an historic Spurs win. The injury-ravaged England midfielder had been restricted to just an hour of football prior to the match, but his impact was almost instant and left David Seaman little chance of preventing the bullet strike nestling in the top corner. Gary Lineker doubled the lead five minutes later before sealing victory 12 minutes from time. Terry Venables’ side would go on to beat Nottingham Forest 2-1 in a final that saw Gascoigne stretchered off with a serious knee injury. It was the last time Spurs lifted the FA Cup. Tottenham team: Thorstvedt, Sedgley, Van Den Hauwe, Mabbutt, Edinburgh, Allen, Gascoigne, Howells, Samways, Stewart, Lineker  

Tottenham's top 10 north London derbies against Arsenal: ranked

The main criteria used were importance of the match, entertainment value, and margin of victory. Let the debates ensue... 10. Arsenal 4 Tottenham 4, October 2008 Getting the nod ahead of notable 2-1 victories in 2011 (Rafael van der Vaart and Kyle Walker), 2013 (Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon) and 2015 (Harry Kane at the double), the match at the Emirates in October 2008 did not result in a Spurs win, but must be included in this list because, let’s face it, it certainly felt like a victory. Things began in phenomenal fashion when David Bentley scored his outrageous 40-yard volley and the 1-1 half-time scoreline gave little indication of what was to come. Darren Bent reduced the deficit after Arsenal had taken a 3-1 lead, only for Spurs to ship a fourth almost instantly. Cue Jermaine Jenas curling in a beauty in the final minute of normal time, Aaron Lennon grabbing the most unlikely of equalisers in injury time and complete pandemonium. Tottenham team: Gomes, Hutton, Corluka, Assou-Ekotto, Woodgate, Modric, Jenas, Bentley, Huddlestone, Bale, Pavlyuchenko 9. Tottenham 2 Arsenal 0, April 2017 The end of St Totteringham's Day. Spurs confirmed they would finally finish above Arsenal in the Premier League for the first time in 22 years with an emphatic win at White Hart Lane that kept their slim title hopes alive.  Dele Alli scores the opening goal in Spurs' 2-0 win over Arsenal  Credit: AFP  The victory extended the gap between the two sides to 17 points, confirming the balance of power in north London had well and truly shifted - for now. Collectively, Spurs ran 10km further than their rivals to ensure Arsene Wenger's 50th north London derby ended in defeat. Tottenham team: Lloris, Davies, Vertonghen, Alderweireld, Trippier, Eriksen, Heung min-Son, Dier, Alli, Wanyama, Kane 8. Tottenham 4 Arsenal 2, January 1961 By the time Spurs welcomed Arsenal to White Hart Lane in January 1961, they had already beaten them 3-2 at Highbury early in the season and the march towards a second league title in the club’s history was well and truly on. In fact, it was Arsenal who took an early lead, before Les Allen equalised and Spurs started to assert their dominance. Danny Blanchflower scored from the penalty spot, Bobby Smith added a third and Allen rounded off proceedings with his second of the match. The victory put Spurs eight points clear at the top of the Division One table, which they would win alongside the FA Cup under Bill Nicholson. At that stage it was also only the second time Spurs had completed the league double over Arsenal. Tottenham team: Brown, Baker, Henry, Blanchflower, Norman, Mackay, Jones, White, Smith, Allen, Dyson 7. Arsenal 1 Tottenham 2, January 1985 Standing proud at the top of the Division One table after Christmas for the first time in more than 20 years, Spurs travelled to Highbury on New Year’s Day intent on maintaining their push for the title. Arsenal, who were just four points behind, dominated the first half and took the lead three minutes before the break. Spurs goal 1985 However, a rejuvenated Spurs side inspired by Glenn Hoddle came out for the second half and brought about a reversal in fortunes. Hoddle’s long ball set up Garth Crooks for the equaliser before Mark Falco curled into the corner from the edge of the box to ruin Arsenal’s start to 1985. Unfortunately, given the fine form they were in, Spurs played just two league games in the next two months and lost their momentum, eventually finishing third in the table (four places ahead of Arsenal). Tottenham team: Clemence, Miller, Roberts, Mabbutt, Perryman, Stevens, Galvin, Hoddle, Crooks, Falco, Chiedozie 6. Tottenham 1 Arsenal 0, December 1950 Only promoted to the First Division that summer after a war-extended absence of 15 years from the top flight, Spurs welcomed Arsenal two days before Christmas having dropped just seven points in almost three months. Spurs claimed Division One straight after gaining promotion Credit: getty images Arthur Rowe’s side had drawn against their north-London rivals at the start of the season, but a single goal from Eddie Baily was enough to give Spurs their first win in the match since 1934. The Division One new boys did not let up and went on to win back-to-back titles. Tottenham team: Ditchburn, Ramsey, Willis, Clarke, Burgess, Nicholson, Medley, Duqemin, Walters, Bennett, Baily 5. Tottenham 2 Arsenal 1, April 2010 Two words: ‘Danny’ and ‘Rose’. Ten minutes into his Premier League debut, the Spurs full-back scored a goal that he will forever be associated with for the rest of his career. What possessed him to have a dig from 30 yards as a corner was cleared to him is unknown, but the technique and power of his volley was impeccable and, crucially, gave Spurs an early 1-0 lead. Danny Rose is unlikely to ever score a better goal Credit: action images Gareth Bale doubled the advantage a couple of minutes after the break and, despite Arsenal pulling a late goal back, Harry Redknapp’s side held on to complete a first north London derby league win in 11 years. The result killed off any lingering hopes of Arsenal winning the title, but more significantly kept Spurs on track to qualify for the Champions League for the first time. Tottenham team: Gomes, Kaboul, Dawson, Rose, King, Assou-Ekotto, Huddlestone, Modric, Bale, Pavlyuchenko, Defoe 4. Tottenham 5 Arsenal 0, April 1983 It took five years, but revenge was so sweet when it arrived. Two days before Christmas in 1978, Arsenal had humiliated their nearest rivals with a 5-0 victory at White Hart Lane. Despite lining up without Glenn Hoddle, Ossie Ardiles and Ricky Villa, who were all missing with injuries, Spurs made amends in 1983 by inflicting a record defeat against Arsenal and matching the scoreline from five years earlier. Spurs goal 1983 Chris Hughton scored two, Alan Brazil grabbed one and Mark Falco scored two volleys – one of which must be included in a list of the greatest north London derby goals of all time, thundering it in from the edge of the penalty area. So terrible was Arsenal's defending that the victory margin could so easily have been even bigger. Tottenham team: Clemence, Hughton, O’Reilly, Roberts, Miller, Gibson, Mabbutt, Archibald, Galvin, Brazil, Falco 3. Arsenal 2 Tottenham 3, November 2010 Two goals down at half-time, the story looked all too familiar for the Spurs faithful who had made the short trip to the Emirates Stadium. Goals from Samir Nasri and Marouane Chamakh had put the home side ahead and on course to move top of the Premier League table. Younes Kaboul scored the winner in November 2010 Credit: getty images Instead, Spurs produced one of the finest comebacks in their modern history as Gareth Bale scored five minutes into the second half, Rafael van der Vaart drew level from the penalty spot and Younes Kaboul completed the turnaround just five minutes from time. It was Spurs’ first away victory against Arsenal in 17 years. Tottenham team: Gomes, Hutton, Kaboul, Gallas, Assou-Ekotto, Lennon, Jenas, Van Der Vaart, Modric, Bale, Pavlyuchenko 2. Tottenham 5 Arsenal 1, January 2008 Seventeen years after their FA Cup semi-final triumph (more of which below), Spurs again ran riot in a cup semi-final when they destroyed Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal from start to finish en route to lifting the Carling Cup. Delicately poised at 1-1 after the first leg at the Emirates Stadium, Spurs took the lead just three minutes into the reverse fixture at White Hart Lane thanks to a Jermaine Jenas strike, before a Nicklas Bendtner own-goal doubled the advantage and Robbie Keane, Aaron Lennon and Steed Malbranque sealed the deal. Aaron Lennon was one of five scorers in the 2008 FA Cup semi-final Credit: pa For Spurs fans who had not seen their side beat their north London rivals since 1999, there was no better sight than Bendtner, Emmanuel Adebayor and William Gallas turning on each other near the end of the game. Tottenham team: Cerny, Chimbonda, King, Dawson, Lee Young-Pyo, Lennon, Malbranque, Jenas, Tainio, Keane, Berbatov 1. Tottenham 3 Arsenal 1, April 1991 “Is Gascoigne going to have a crack?” asked Barry Davies, as the finest Spurs player of a generation lined up a 30-yard free-kick. “He is you know.” And what a crack it was. Just five minutes into the 1990/91 FA Cup semi-final, Paul Gascoigne scored one of the greatest goals ever seen at Wembley and set the ball rolling for an historic Spurs win. The injury-ravaged England midfielder had been restricted to just an hour of football prior to the match, but his impact was almost instant and left David Seaman little chance of preventing the bullet strike nestling in the top corner. Gary Lineker doubled the lead five minutes later before sealing victory 12 minutes from time. Terry Venables’ side would go on to beat Nottingham Forest 2-1 in a final that saw Gascoigne stretchered off with a serious knee injury. It was the last time Spurs lifted the FA Cup. Tottenham team: Thorstvedt, Sedgley, Van Den Hauwe, Mabbutt, Edinburgh, Allen, Gascoigne, Howells, Samways, Stewart, Lineker  

Tottenham's top 10 north London derbies against Arsenal: ranked

The main criteria used were importance of the match, entertainment value, and margin of victory. Let the debates ensue... 10. Arsenal 4 Tottenham 4, October 2008 Getting the nod ahead of notable 2-1 victories in 2011 (Rafael van der Vaart and Kyle Walker), 2013 (Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon) and 2015 (Harry Kane at the double), the match at the Emirates in October 2008 did not result in a Spurs win, but must be included in this list because, let’s face it, it certainly felt like a victory. Things began in phenomenal fashion when David Bentley scored his outrageous 40-yard volley and the 1-1 half-time scoreline gave little indication of what was to come. Darren Bent reduced the deficit after Arsenal had taken a 3-1 lead, only for Spurs to ship a fourth almost instantly. Cue Jermaine Jenas curling in a beauty in the final minute of normal time, Aaron Lennon grabbing the most unlikely of equalisers in injury time and complete pandemonium. Tottenham team: Gomes, Hutton, Corluka, Assou-Ekotto, Woodgate, Modric, Jenas, Bentley, Huddlestone, Bale, Pavlyuchenko 9. Tottenham 2 Arsenal 0, April 2017 The end of St Totteringham's Day. Spurs confirmed they would finally finish above Arsenal in the Premier League for the first time in 22 years with an emphatic win at White Hart Lane that kept their slim title hopes alive.  Dele Alli scores the opening goal in Spurs' 2-0 win over Arsenal  Credit: AFP  The victory extended the gap between the two sides to 17 points, confirming the balance of power in north London had well and truly shifted - for now. Collectively, Spurs ran 10km further than their rivals to ensure Arsene Wenger's 50th north London derby ended in defeat. Tottenham team: Lloris, Davies, Vertonghen, Alderweireld, Trippier, Eriksen, Heung min-Son, Dier, Alli, Wanyama, Kane 8. Tottenham 4 Arsenal 2, January 1961 By the time Spurs welcomed Arsenal to White Hart Lane in January 1961, they had already beaten them 3-2 at Highbury early in the season and the march towards a second league title in the club’s history was well and truly on. In fact, it was Arsenal who took an early lead, before Les Allen equalised and Spurs started to assert their dominance. Danny Blanchflower scored from the penalty spot, Bobby Smith added a third and Allen rounded off proceedings with his second of the match. The victory put Spurs eight points clear at the top of the Division One table, which they would win alongside the FA Cup under Bill Nicholson. At that stage it was also only the second time Spurs had completed the league double over Arsenal. Tottenham team: Brown, Baker, Henry, Blanchflower, Norman, Mackay, Jones, White, Smith, Allen, Dyson 7. Arsenal 1 Tottenham 2, January 1985 Standing proud at the top of the Division One table after Christmas for the first time in more than 20 years, Spurs travelled to Highbury on New Year’s Day intent on maintaining their push for the title. Arsenal, who were just four points behind, dominated the first half and took the lead three minutes before the break. Spurs goal 1985 However, a rejuvenated Spurs side inspired by Glenn Hoddle came out for the second half and brought about a reversal in fortunes. Hoddle’s long ball set up Garth Crooks for the equaliser before Mark Falco curled into the corner from the edge of the box to ruin Arsenal’s start to 1985. Unfortunately, given the fine form they were in, Spurs played just two league games in the next two months and lost their momentum, eventually finishing third in the table (four places ahead of Arsenal). Tottenham team: Clemence, Miller, Roberts, Mabbutt, Perryman, Stevens, Galvin, Hoddle, Crooks, Falco, Chiedozie 6. Tottenham 1 Arsenal 0, December 1950 Only promoted to the First Division that summer after a war-extended absence of 15 years from the top flight, Spurs welcomed Arsenal two days before Christmas having dropped just seven points in almost three months. Spurs claimed Division One straight after gaining promotion Credit: getty images Arthur Rowe’s side had drawn against their north-London rivals at the start of the season, but a single goal from Eddie Baily was enough to give Spurs their first win in the match since 1934. The Division One new boys did not let up and went on to win back-to-back titles. Tottenham team: Ditchburn, Ramsey, Willis, Clarke, Burgess, Nicholson, Medley, Duqemin, Walters, Bennett, Baily 5. Tottenham 2 Arsenal 1, April 2010 Two words: ‘Danny’ and ‘Rose’. Ten minutes into his Premier League debut, the Spurs full-back scored a goal that he will forever be associated with for the rest of his career. What possessed him to have a dig from 30 yards as a corner was cleared to him is unknown, but the technique and power of his volley was impeccable and, crucially, gave Spurs an early 1-0 lead. Danny Rose is unlikely to ever score a better goal Credit: action images Gareth Bale doubled the advantage a couple of minutes after the break and, despite Arsenal pulling a late goal back, Harry Redknapp’s side held on to complete a first north London derby league win in 11 years. The result killed off any lingering hopes of Arsenal winning the title, but more significantly kept Spurs on track to qualify for the Champions League for the first time. Tottenham team: Gomes, Kaboul, Dawson, Rose, King, Assou-Ekotto, Huddlestone, Modric, Bale, Pavlyuchenko, Defoe 4. Tottenham 5 Arsenal 0, April 1983 It took five years, but revenge was so sweet when it arrived. Two days before Christmas in 1978, Arsenal had humiliated their nearest rivals with a 5-0 victory at White Hart Lane. Despite lining up without Glenn Hoddle, Ossie Ardiles and Ricky Villa, who were all missing with injuries, Spurs made amends in 1983 by inflicting a record defeat against Arsenal and matching the scoreline from five years earlier. Spurs goal 1983 Chris Hughton scored two, Alan Brazil grabbed one and Mark Falco scored two volleys – one of which must be included in a list of the greatest north London derby goals of all time, thundering it in from the edge of the penalty area. So terrible was Arsenal's defending that the victory margin could so easily have been even bigger. Tottenham team: Clemence, Hughton, O’Reilly, Roberts, Miller, Gibson, Mabbutt, Archibald, Galvin, Brazil, Falco 3. Arsenal 2 Tottenham 3, November 2010 Two goals down at half-time, the story looked all too familiar for the Spurs faithful who had made the short trip to the Emirates Stadium. Goals from Samir Nasri and Marouane Chamakh had put the home side ahead and on course to move top of the Premier League table. Younes Kaboul scored the winner in November 2010 Credit: getty images Instead, Spurs produced one of the finest comebacks in their modern history as Gareth Bale scored five minutes into the second half, Rafael van der Vaart drew level from the penalty spot and Younes Kaboul completed the turnaround just five minutes from time. It was Spurs’ first away victory against Arsenal in 17 years. Tottenham team: Gomes, Hutton, Kaboul, Gallas, Assou-Ekotto, Lennon, Jenas, Van Der Vaart, Modric, Bale, Pavlyuchenko 2. Tottenham 5 Arsenal 1, January 2008 Seventeen years after their FA Cup semi-final triumph (more of which below), Spurs again ran riot in a cup semi-final when they destroyed Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal from start to finish en route to lifting the Carling Cup. Delicately poised at 1-1 after the first leg at the Emirates Stadium, Spurs took the lead just three minutes into the reverse fixture at White Hart Lane thanks to a Jermaine Jenas strike, before a Nicklas Bendtner own-goal doubled the advantage and Robbie Keane, Aaron Lennon and Steed Malbranque sealed the deal. Aaron Lennon was one of five scorers in the 2008 FA Cup semi-final Credit: pa For Spurs fans who had not seen their side beat their north London rivals since 1999, there was no better sight than Bendtner, Emmanuel Adebayor and William Gallas turning on each other near the end of the game. Tottenham team: Cerny, Chimbonda, King, Dawson, Lee Young-Pyo, Lennon, Malbranque, Jenas, Tainio, Keane, Berbatov 1. Tottenham 3 Arsenal 1, April 1991 “Is Gascoigne going to have a crack?” asked Barry Davies, as the finest Spurs player of a generation lined up a 30-yard free-kick. “He is you know.” And what a crack it was. Just five minutes into the 1990/91 FA Cup semi-final, Paul Gascoigne scored one of the greatest goals ever seen at Wembley and set the ball rolling for an historic Spurs win. The injury-ravaged England midfielder had been restricted to just an hour of football prior to the match, but his impact was almost instant and left David Seaman little chance of preventing the bullet strike nestling in the top corner. Gary Lineker doubled the lead five minutes later before sealing victory 12 minutes from time. Terry Venables’ side would go on to beat Nottingham Forest 2-1 in a final that saw Gascoigne stretchered off with a serious knee injury. It was the last time Spurs lifted the FA Cup. Tottenham team: Thorstvedt, Sedgley, Van Den Hauwe, Mabbutt, Edinburgh, Allen, Gascoigne, Howells, Samways, Stewart, Lineker  

Tottenham's top 10 north London derbies against Arsenal: ranked

The main criteria used were importance of the match, entertainment value, and margin of victory. Let the debates ensue... 10. Arsenal 4 Tottenham 4, October 2008 Getting the nod ahead of notable 2-1 victories in 2011 (Rafael van der Vaart and Kyle Walker), 2013 (Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon) and 2015 (Harry Kane at the double), the match at the Emirates in October 2008 did not result in a Spurs win, but must be included in this list because, let’s face it, it certainly felt like a victory. Things began in phenomenal fashion when David Bentley scored his outrageous 40-yard volley and the 1-1 half-time scoreline gave little indication of what was to come. Darren Bent reduced the deficit after Arsenal had taken a 3-1 lead, only for Spurs to ship a fourth almost instantly. Cue Jermaine Jenas curling in a beauty in the final minute of normal time, Aaron Lennon grabbing the most unlikely of equalisers in injury time and complete pandemonium. Tottenham team: Gomes, Hutton, Corluka, Assou-Ekotto, Woodgate, Modric, Jenas, Bentley, Huddlestone, Bale, Pavlyuchenko 9. Tottenham 2 Arsenal 0, April 2017 The end of St Totteringham's Day. Spurs confirmed they would finally finish above Arsenal in the Premier League for the first time in 22 years with an emphatic win at White Hart Lane that kept their slim title hopes alive.  Dele Alli scores the opening goal in Spurs' 2-0 win over Arsenal  Credit: AFP  The victory extended the gap between the two sides to 17 points, confirming the balance of power in north London had well and truly shifted - for now. Collectively, Spurs ran 10km further than their rivals to ensure Arsene Wenger's 50th north London derby ended in defeat. Tottenham team: Lloris, Davies, Vertonghen, Alderweireld, Trippier, Eriksen, Heung min-Son, Dier, Alli, Wanyama, Kane 8. Tottenham 4 Arsenal 2, January 1961 By the time Spurs welcomed Arsenal to White Hart Lane in January 1961, they had already beaten them 3-2 at Highbury early in the season and the march towards a second league title in the club’s history was well and truly on. In fact, it was Arsenal who took an early lead, before Les Allen equalised and Spurs started to assert their dominance. Danny Blanchflower scored from the penalty spot, Bobby Smith added a third and Allen rounded off proceedings with his second of the match. The victory put Spurs eight points clear at the top of the Division One table, which they would win alongside the FA Cup under Bill Nicholson. At that stage it was also only the second time Spurs had completed the league double over Arsenal. Tottenham team: Brown, Baker, Henry, Blanchflower, Norman, Mackay, Jones, White, Smith, Allen, Dyson 7. Arsenal 1 Tottenham 2, January 1985 Standing proud at the top of the Division One table after Christmas for the first time in more than 20 years, Spurs travelled to Highbury on New Year’s Day intent on maintaining their push for the title. Arsenal, who were just four points behind, dominated the first half and took the lead three minutes before the break. Spurs goal 1985 However, a rejuvenated Spurs side inspired by Glenn Hoddle came out for the second half and brought about a reversal in fortunes. Hoddle’s long ball set up Garth Crooks for the equaliser before Mark Falco curled into the corner from the edge of the box to ruin Arsenal’s start to 1985. Unfortunately, given the fine form they were in, Spurs played just two league games in the next two months and lost their momentum, eventually finishing third in the table (four places ahead of Arsenal). Tottenham team: Clemence, Miller, Roberts, Mabbutt, Perryman, Stevens, Galvin, Hoddle, Crooks, Falco, Chiedozie 6. Tottenham 1 Arsenal 0, December 1950 Only promoted to the First Division that summer after a war-extended absence of 15 years from the top flight, Spurs welcomed Arsenal two days before Christmas having dropped just seven points in almost three months. Spurs claimed Division One straight after gaining promotion Credit: getty images Arthur Rowe’s side had drawn against their north-London rivals at the start of the season, but a single goal from Eddie Baily was enough to give Spurs their first win in the match since 1934. The Division One new boys did not let up and went on to win back-to-back titles. Tottenham team: Ditchburn, Ramsey, Willis, Clarke, Burgess, Nicholson, Medley, Duqemin, Walters, Bennett, Baily 5. Tottenham 2 Arsenal 1, April 2010 Two words: ‘Danny’ and ‘Rose’. Ten minutes into his Premier League debut, the Spurs full-back scored a goal that he will forever be associated with for the rest of his career. What possessed him to have a dig from 30 yards as a corner was cleared to him is unknown, but the technique and power of his volley was impeccable and, crucially, gave Spurs an early 1-0 lead. Danny Rose is unlikely to ever score a better goal Credit: action images Gareth Bale doubled the advantage a couple of minutes after the break and, despite Arsenal pulling a late goal back, Harry Redknapp’s side held on to complete a first north London derby league win in 11 years. The result killed off any lingering hopes of Arsenal winning the title, but more significantly kept Spurs on track to qualify for the Champions League for the first time. Tottenham team: Gomes, Kaboul, Dawson, Rose, King, Assou-Ekotto, Huddlestone, Modric, Bale, Pavlyuchenko, Defoe 4. Tottenham 5 Arsenal 0, April 1983 It took five years, but revenge was so sweet when it arrived. Two days before Christmas in 1978, Arsenal had humiliated their nearest rivals with a 5-0 victory at White Hart Lane. Despite lining up without Glenn Hoddle, Ossie Ardiles and Ricky Villa, who were all missing with injuries, Spurs made amends in 1983 by inflicting a record defeat against Arsenal and matching the scoreline from five years earlier. Spurs goal 1983 Chris Hughton scored two, Alan Brazil grabbed one and Mark Falco scored two volleys – one of which must be included in a list of the greatest north London derby goals of all time, thundering it in from the edge of the penalty area. So terrible was Arsenal's defending that the victory margin could so easily have been even bigger. Tottenham team: Clemence, Hughton, O’Reilly, Roberts, Miller, Gibson, Mabbutt, Archibald, Galvin, Brazil, Falco 3. Arsenal 2 Tottenham 3, November 2010 Two goals down at half-time, the story looked all too familiar for the Spurs faithful who had made the short trip to the Emirates Stadium. Goals from Samir Nasri and Marouane Chamakh had put the home side ahead and on course to move top of the Premier League table. Younes Kaboul scored the winner in November 2010 Credit: getty images Instead, Spurs produced one of the finest comebacks in their modern history as Gareth Bale scored five minutes into the second half, Rafael van der Vaart drew level from the penalty spot and Younes Kaboul completed the turnaround just five minutes from time. It was Spurs’ first away victory against Arsenal in 17 years. Tottenham team: Gomes, Hutton, Kaboul, Gallas, Assou-Ekotto, Lennon, Jenas, Van Der Vaart, Modric, Bale, Pavlyuchenko 2. Tottenham 5 Arsenal 1, January 2008 Seventeen years after their FA Cup semi-final triumph (more of which below), Spurs again ran riot in a cup semi-final when they destroyed Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal from start to finish en route to lifting the Carling Cup. Delicately poised at 1-1 after the first leg at the Emirates Stadium, Spurs took the lead just three minutes into the reverse fixture at White Hart Lane thanks to a Jermaine Jenas strike, before a Nicklas Bendtner own-goal doubled the advantage and Robbie Keane, Aaron Lennon and Steed Malbranque sealed the deal. Aaron Lennon was one of five scorers in the 2008 FA Cup semi-final Credit: pa For Spurs fans who had not seen their side beat their north London rivals since 1999, there was no better sight than Bendtner, Emmanuel Adebayor and William Gallas turning on each other near the end of the game. Tottenham team: Cerny, Chimbonda, King, Dawson, Lee Young-Pyo, Lennon, Malbranque, Jenas, Tainio, Keane, Berbatov 1. Tottenham 3 Arsenal 1, April 1991 “Is Gascoigne going to have a crack?” asked Barry Davies, as the finest Spurs player of a generation lined up a 30-yard free-kick. “He is you know.” And what a crack it was. Just five minutes into the 1990/91 FA Cup semi-final, Paul Gascoigne scored one of the greatest goals ever seen at Wembley and set the ball rolling for an historic Spurs win. The injury-ravaged England midfielder had been restricted to just an hour of football prior to the match, but his impact was almost instant and left David Seaman little chance of preventing the bullet strike nestling in the top corner. Gary Lineker doubled the lead five minutes later before sealing victory 12 minutes from time. Terry Venables’ side would go on to beat Nottingham Forest 2-1 in a final that saw Gascoigne stretchered off with a serious knee injury. It was the last time Spurs lifted the FA Cup. Tottenham team: Thorstvedt, Sedgley, Van Den Hauwe, Mabbutt, Edinburgh, Allen, Gascoigne, Howells, Samways, Stewart, Lineker  

Scotland stepping up in its effort to make Michael O'Neill their manager

Fearful that they could be beaten to the punch, the Scottish Football Association has asked the Irish Football Association for permission to approach Michael O’Neill to become the next Scotland manager. O’Neill has been contemplating his future at his Edinburgh home since Monday, when he returned from Northern Ireland’s World Cup play-off second leg against Switzerland in Basle. Telegraph Sport understands that the 48-year-old is weighing up the attractions of life as an international manager against a switch to the frenetic world of day-to-day involvement at club level. Sunderland, who have been without a manager since they sacked Simon Grayson last month have identified O’Neill – a former Newcastle United player – as the man they want and Rangers are also in the market for a new manager. It has not escaped O’Neill’s notice, however, that the Sunderland appointment will be the Black Cats’ 10th in six years, while Rangers seek their third manager in the space of nine months. First to depart Ibrox in 2017 was Mark Warburton, who moved to Nottingham Forest in March. Warburton’s successor, the Portuguese coach, Pedro Caixinha, lasted for only 26 games – never winning three in succession – before his chaotic regime came to its inevitable end last month. Were Rangers to approach O’Neill, it is certain that the man from Portadown would want to take his fellow-countryman, Jimmy Nicholl, a former favourite with the Ibrox crowd, who has been his assistant with Northern Ireland. Meanwhile, USA are also said to be interested in O’Neill. The experienced Bruce Arena, who was in charge from 1998 to 2006, quit after a second spell lasting a year, when the USA failed to qualify for the World Cup finals, saying that there was ‘no excuse’ for the disappointment of failing to make the later stage of the tournament for the first time since 1986. Dave Sarachan, Arena’s assistant, supervised the team for Tuesday’s 1-1 draw in a friendly with Portugal in Leiria but will not be considered for the post on a longer-term basis. Arena succeeded Jurgen Klinsmann midway through the qualifying campaign and the fact that neither was effective has put pressure on the president of US Soccer, Sunil Gulati, who intends to defend his position against a growing roster of challengers intent on ending his 12 years in office when he comes up for re-election in February. That internal political turmoil is another factor that will have to be considered by O’Neill as he approaches one of the most crucial decisions of his career. The IFA are also understood to be willing to offer a new package to the manager who galvanised their players and fans with qualification for Euro 2016 but he is ready for change after six years at the helm and the SFA’s urgent quest is to persuade him to try to end Scotland’s 20-year-long exile from the later stages of major tournaments after Gordon Strachan’s recent close call.

Martin O'Neill's Ireland reign was accompanied by an undercurrent of animosity, and now, he might just have had enough

There is a question Martin O’Neill needs to ask himself, and it is not whether he should have stuck with his tried and tested defensive formula for Republic of Ireland’s World Cup play-off defeat to Denmark. It is whether the time is right for him to leave. At difficult moments like these, home is where the heart is; where his family surround him and O’Neill has lived in the UK for more than four decades. He will fly back to England today, bruised, battered and bitter. Annoyed with himself, to an extent, but mainly seething at the spiteful reaction to the defeat in Dublin and beyond. He sensed it in in the hostile tone of the post-match press conference in the Aviva Stadium, but the venom that has been spat at him since means it is now a distinct possibility that he will not continue as Ireland manager. That will be of interest to several clubs in England, who may now look to test his loyalty to the Football Association of Ireland and the verbal agreement to extend his contract. O’Neill was offered a two-year extension before securing the win, away in Cardiff, over Wales last month that secured a play-off place. But the ink is not dry on it because he has not picked up a pen to sign. For O’Neill, a handshake and a verbal agreement matter – he didn’t sign his last extension until several months after it was agreed – but the defeat to Denmark, the nature of it and the type of criticism that followed, has altered his perception of the job, as well as perceptions of him. Denmark ended Ireland's World Cup dream on Tuesday Credit: Getty images The lack of perspective and context given to the heavy defeat to Denmark annoyed him, but also the lack of understanding – appreciation even – of the limitations he works under has been a constant source of friction. He feels under-appreciated. Ireland have played 24 competitive games under O’Neill and lost four of them, yet there are those who feel he has under-performed. It could well be that he thinks, ‘ok, fine, let someone else have a go.’ O’Neill needs to let the dust settle. He will go away on holiday and he will think about things. He always does. He will not rush this decision, one way or the other. In his mind will be the fact Ireland qualified for the Euros, reached the knockout stage of that tournament for the first time and followed it up by finishing second in their World Cup group when they were the fourth seeds. Not bad, not amazing, but given the resources at his disposal, it is highly debatable anyone would have done better. He will wonder, has he taken the Ireland team as far as he can? Yet, much like the English, the Irish have an inflated opinion of how good their players are and a strange sense of entitlement when it comes to judging the fortunes of the national team. Ireland did well to get a play-off place, yet O’Neill is slaughtered for failing to win it. The Irish had a memorable time at Euro 2016 Credit: rex features He must ask himself, does he need that sort of criticism or should he return to club football in England with his assistant Roy Keane? There has been - and would be - plenty of interest in employing them. There are better paid jobs waiting for the pair if they want one of them. At the age of 65, O’Neill has a decision to make and the fascinating thing is that, rather the replace him if O’Neill departs the Ireland job, Keane is far more likely to follow him. Ireland are, on paper, a team that would struggle to stay in the Premier League. If you were being cruel, you might suggest they are one that would struggle to get out of the Championship given that only five of the starting line-up – Robbie Brady, Jeff Hendrick and Stephen Ward at Burnley, Shane Duffy at Brighton and Harry Arter at Bournemouth - started for their Premier League clubs the weekend before the international break. Ireland do not have a single world class player and their best individual, the only one who might sneak into the England squad when they head off to Russia next summer, Seamus Coleman, broke his leg in two places back in March and has not played any part in their campaign since. Up front, against Denmark, O’Neill had a choice to make between Nottingham Forest’s Daryl Murphy, a 34-year-old who has scored three international goals in 32 appearances, or Southampton’s Shane Long, a striker who has not scored for club or country since February. When goals win games, it is a Hobson’s Choice. Yet, in his post-match press conference, one journalist claimed his “luck had run out” as a manager. Another suggested he had been“humiliated” by failing to qualify for the World Cup. Ireland simply don't have enough quality, particularly up front Credit: Getty images As for the coverage in the aftermath of the Denmark defeat, the sentiments were clear. O’Neill was to blame for Ireland’s failure to qualify and people are already questioning the wisdom in offering him two more years. Emotions always run high in the wake of a devastating defeat, but there has been undercurrent of animosity towards O’Neill swimming just below the surface throughout his four-year reign. His demeanour, his prickliness and, at times his personality, have helped provoke that, but those who dislike him must ask, who would they prefer in his place and who could have done more? It is the nature of the beast. Success or failure in international football, sends a shudder through the national consciousness that cannot be matched by other sports. Just ask the Italians and the Dutch, who will also not be going to Russia next year. Ireland thought this was the moment the national team would return to the World Cup stage after a 16-year absence and they failed. The dream died and someone has to be blamed. At the moment, the blame is heaped upon O’Neill. That’s management, and he has to take it, but could put him off returning in the spring. Scotland are looking for a new manager, so might Northern Ireland soon. More pertinently, O’Neill has a CV that would put him the frame for countless vacancies at club level in the future. After four years with Ireland, he may simply have had enough.

Martin O'Neill's Ireland reign was accompanied by an undercurrent of animosity, and now, he might just have had enough

There is a question Martin O’Neill needs to ask himself, and it is not whether he should have stuck with his tried and tested defensive formula for Republic of Ireland’s World Cup play-off defeat to Denmark. It is whether the time is right for him to leave. At difficult moments like these, home is where the heart is; where his family surround him and O’Neill has lived in the UK for more than four decades. He will fly back to England today, bruised, battered and bitter. Annoyed with himself, to an extent, but mainly seething at the spiteful reaction to the defeat in Dublin and beyond. He sensed it in in the hostile tone of the post-match press conference in the Aviva Stadium, but the venom that has been spat at him since means it is now a distinct possibility that he will not continue as Ireland manager. That will be of interest to several clubs in England, who may now look to test his loyalty to the Football Association of Ireland and the verbal agreement to extend his contract. O’Neill was offered a two-year extension before securing the win, away in Cardiff, over Wales last month that secured a play-off place. But the ink is not dry on it because he has not picked up a pen to sign. For O’Neill, a handshake and a verbal agreement matter – he didn’t sign his last extension until several months after it was agreed – but the defeat to Denmark, the nature of it and the type of criticism that followed, has altered his perception of the job, as well as perceptions of him. Denmark ended Ireland's World Cup dream on Tuesday Credit: Getty images The lack of perspective and context given to the heavy defeat to Denmark annoyed him, but also the lack of understanding – appreciation even – of the limitations he works under has been a constant source of friction. He feels under-appreciated. Ireland have played 24 competitive games under O’Neill and lost four of them, yet there are those who feel he has under-performed. It could well be that he thinks, ‘ok, fine, let someone else have a go.’ O’Neill needs to let the dust settle. He will go away on holiday and he will think about things. He always does. He will not rush this decision, one way or the other. In his mind will be the fact Ireland qualified for the Euros, reached the knockout stage of that tournament for the first time and followed it up by finishing second in their World Cup group when they were the fourth seeds. Not bad, not amazing, but given the resources at his disposal, it is highly debatable anyone would have done better. He will wonder, has he taken the Ireland team as far as he can? Yet, much like the English, the Irish have an inflated opinion of how good their players are and a strange sense of entitlement when it comes to judging the fortunes of the national team. Ireland did well to get a play-off place, yet O’Neill is slaughtered for failing to win it. The Irish had a memorable time at Euro 2016 Credit: rex features He must ask himself, does he need that sort of criticism or should he return to club football in England with his assistant Roy Keane? There has been - and would be - plenty of interest in employing them. There are better paid jobs waiting for the pair if they want one of them. At the age of 65, O’Neill has a decision to make and the fascinating thing is that, rather the replace him if O’Neill departs the Ireland job, Keane is far more likely to follow him. Ireland are, on paper, a team that would struggle to stay in the Premier League. If you were being cruel, you might suggest they are one that would struggle to get out of the Championship given that only five of the starting line-up – Robbie Brady, Jeff Hendrick and Stephen Ward at Burnley, Shane Duffy at Brighton and Harry Arter at Bournemouth - started for their Premier League clubs the weekend before the international break. Ireland do not have a single world class player and their best individual, the only one who might sneak into the England squad when they head off to Russia next summer, Seamus Coleman, broke his leg in two places back in March and has not played any part in their campaign since. Up front, against Denmark, O’Neill had a choice to make between Nottingham Forest’s Daryl Murphy, a 34-year-old who has scored three international goals in 32 appearances, or Southampton’s Shane Long, a striker who has not scored for club or country since February. When goals win games, it is a Hobson’s Choice. Yet, in his post-match press conference, one journalist claimed his “luck had run out” as a manager. Another suggested he had been“humiliated” by failing to qualify for the World Cup. Ireland simply don't have enough quality, particularly up front Credit: Getty images As for the coverage in the aftermath of the Denmark defeat, the sentiments were clear. O’Neill was to blame for Ireland’s failure to qualify and people are already questioning the wisdom in offering him two more years. Emotions always run high in the wake of a devastating defeat, but there has been undercurrent of animosity towards O’Neill swimming just below the surface throughout his four-year reign. His demeanour, his prickliness and, at times his personality, have helped provoke that, but those who dislike him must ask, who would they prefer in his place and who could have done more? It is the nature of the beast. Success or failure in international football, sends a shudder through the national consciousness that cannot be matched by other sports. Just ask the Italians and the Dutch, who will also not be going to Russia next year. Ireland thought this was the moment the national team would return to the World Cup stage after a 16-year absence and they failed. The dream died and someone has to be blamed. At the moment, the blame is heaped upon O’Neill. That’s management, and he has to take it, but could put him off returning in the spring. Scotland are looking for a new manager, so might Northern Ireland soon. More pertinently, O’Neill has a CV that would put him the frame for countless vacancies at club level in the future. After four years with Ireland, he may simply have had enough.

Martin O'Neill's Ireland reign was accompanied by an undercurrent of animosity, and now, he might just have had enough

There is a question Martin O’Neill needs to ask himself, and it is not whether he should have stuck with his tried and tested defensive formula for Republic of Ireland’s World Cup play-off defeat to Denmark. It is whether the time is right for him to leave. At difficult moments like these, home is where the heart is; where his family surround him and O’Neill has lived in the UK for more than four decades. He will fly back to England today, bruised, battered and bitter. Annoyed with himself, to an extent, but mainly seething at the spiteful reaction to the defeat in Dublin and beyond. He sensed it in in the hostile tone of the post-match press conference in the Aviva Stadium, but the venom that has been spat at him since means it is now a distinct possibility that he will not continue as Ireland manager. That will be of interest to several clubs in England, who may now look to test his loyalty to the Football Association of Ireland and the verbal agreement to extend his contract. O’Neill was offered a two-year extension before securing the win, away in Cardiff, over Wales last month that secured a play-off place. But the ink is not dry on it because he has not picked up a pen to sign. For O’Neill, a handshake and a verbal agreement matter – he didn’t sign his last extension until several months after it was agreed – but the defeat to Denmark, the nature of it and the type of criticism that followed, has altered his perception of the job, as well as perceptions of him. Denmark ended Ireland's World Cup dream on Tuesday Credit: Getty images The lack of perspective and context given to the heavy defeat to Denmark annoyed him, but also the lack of understanding – appreciation even – of the limitations he works under has been a constant source of friction. He feels under-appreciated. Ireland have played 24 competitive games under O’Neill and lost four of them, yet there are those who feel he has under-performed. It could well be that he thinks, ‘ok, fine, let someone else have a go.’ O’Neill needs to let the dust settle. He will go away on holiday and he will think about things. He always does. He will not rush this decision, one way or the other. In his mind will be the fact Ireland qualified for the Euros, reached the knockout stage of that tournament for the first time and followed it up by finishing second in their World Cup group when they were the fourth seeds. Not bad, not amazing, but given the resources at his disposal, it is highly debatable anyone would have done better. He will wonder, has he taken the Ireland team as far as he can? Yet, much like the English, the Irish have an inflated opinion of how good their players are and a strange sense of entitlement when it comes to judging the fortunes of the national team. Ireland did well to get a play-off place, yet O’Neill is slaughtered for failing to win it. The Irish had a memorable time at Euro 2016 Credit: rex features He must ask himself, does he need that sort of criticism or should he return to club football in England with his assistant Roy Keane? There has been - and would be - plenty of interest in employing them. There are better paid jobs waiting for the pair if they want one of them. At the age of 65, O’Neill has a decision to make and the fascinating thing is that, rather the replace him if O’Neill departs the Ireland job, Keane is far more likely to follow him. Ireland are, on paper, a team that would struggle to stay in the Premier League. If you were being cruel, you might suggest they are one that would struggle to get out of the Championship given that only five of the starting line-up – Robbie Brady, Jeff Hendrick and Stephen Ward at Burnley, Shane Duffy at Brighton and Harry Arter at Bournemouth - started for their Premier League clubs the weekend before the international break. Ireland do not have a single world class player and their best individual, the only one who might sneak into the England squad when they head off to Russia next summer, Seamus Coleman, broke his leg in two places back in March and has not played any part in their campaign since. Up front, against Denmark, O’Neill had a choice to make between Nottingham Forest’s Daryl Murphy, a 34-year-old who has scored three international goals in 32 appearances, or Southampton’s Shane Long, a striker who has not scored for club or country since February. When goals win games, it is a Hobson’s Choice. Yet, in his post-match press conference, one journalist claimed his “luck had run out” as a manager. Another suggested he had been“humiliated” by failing to qualify for the World Cup. Ireland simply don't have enough quality, particularly up front Credit: Getty images As for the coverage in the aftermath of the Denmark defeat, the sentiments were clear. O’Neill was to blame for Ireland’s failure to qualify and people are already questioning the wisdom in offering him two more years. Emotions always run high in the wake of a devastating defeat, but there has been undercurrent of animosity towards O’Neill swimming just below the surface throughout his four-year reign. His demeanour, his prickliness and, at times his personality, have helped provoke that, but those who dislike him must ask, who would they prefer in his place and who could have done more? It is the nature of the beast. Success or failure in international football, sends a shudder through the national consciousness that cannot be matched by other sports. Just ask the Italians and the Dutch, who will also not be going to Russia next year. Ireland thought this was the moment the national team would return to the World Cup stage after a 16-year absence and they failed. The dream died and someone has to be blamed. At the moment, the blame is heaped upon O’Neill. That’s management, and he has to take it, but could put him off returning in the spring. Scotland are looking for a new manager, so might Northern Ireland soon. More pertinently, O’Neill has a CV that would put him the frame for countless vacancies at club level in the future. After four years with Ireland, he may simply have had enough.

Martin O'Neill's Ireland reign was accompanied by an undercurrent of animosity, and now, he might just have had enough

There is a question Martin O’Neill needs to ask himself, and it is not whether he should have stuck with his tried and tested defensive formula for Republic of Ireland’s World Cup play-off defeat to Denmark. It is whether the time is right for him to leave. At difficult moments like these, home is where the heart is; where his family surround him and O’Neill has lived in the UK for more than four decades. He will fly back to England today, bruised, battered and bitter. Annoyed with himself, to an extent, but mainly seething at the spiteful reaction to the defeat in Dublin and beyond. He sensed it in in the hostile tone of the post-match press conference in the Aviva Stadium, but the venom that has been spat at him since means it is now a distinct possibility that he will not continue as Ireland manager. That will be of interest to several clubs in England, who may now look to test his loyalty to the Football Association of Ireland and the verbal agreement to extend his contract. O’Neill was offered a two-year extension before securing the win, away in Cardiff, over Wales last month that secured a play-off place. But the ink is not dry on it because he has not picked up a pen to sign. For O’Neill, a handshake and a verbal agreement matter – he didn’t sign his last extension until several months after it was agreed – but the defeat to Denmark, the nature of it and the type of criticism that followed, has altered his perception of the job, as well as perceptions of him. Denmark ended Ireland's World Cup dream on Tuesday Credit: Getty images The lack of perspective and context given to the heavy defeat to Denmark annoyed him, but also the lack of understanding – appreciation even – of the limitations he works under has been a constant source of friction. He feels under-appreciated. Ireland have played 24 competitive games under O’Neill and lost four of them, yet there are those who feel he has under-performed. It could well be that he thinks, ‘ok, fine, let someone else have a go.’ O’Neill needs to let the dust settle. He will go away on holiday and he will think about things. He always does. He will not rush this decision, one way or the other. In his mind will be the fact Ireland qualified for the Euros, reached the knockout stage of that tournament for the first time and followed it up by finishing second in their World Cup group when they were the fourth seeds. Not bad, not amazing, but given the resources at his disposal, it is highly debatable anyone would have done better. He will wonder, has he taken the Ireland team as far as he can? Yet, much like the English, the Irish have an inflated opinion of how good their players are and a strange sense of entitlement when it comes to judging the fortunes of the national team. Ireland did well to get a play-off place, yet O’Neill is slaughtered for failing to win it. The Irish had a memorable time at Euro 2016 Credit: rex features He must ask himself, does he need that sort of criticism or should he return to club football in England with his assistant Roy Keane? There has been - and would be - plenty of interest in employing them. There are better paid jobs waiting for the pair if they want one of them. At the age of 65, O’Neill has a decision to make and the fascinating thing is that, rather the replace him if O’Neill departs the Ireland job, Keane is far more likely to follow him. Ireland are, on paper, a team that would struggle to stay in the Premier League. If you were being cruel, you might suggest they are one that would struggle to get out of the Championship given that only five of the starting line-up – Robbie Brady, Jeff Hendrick and Stephen Ward at Burnley, Shane Duffy at Brighton and Harry Arter at Bournemouth - started for their Premier League clubs the weekend before the international break. Ireland do not have a single world class player and their best individual, the only one who might sneak into the England squad when they head off to Russia next summer, Seamus Coleman, broke his leg in two places back in March and has not played any part in their campaign since. Up front, against Denmark, O’Neill had a choice to make between Nottingham Forest’s Daryl Murphy, a 34-year-old who has scored three international goals in 32 appearances, or Southampton’s Shane Long, a striker who has not scored for club or country since February. When goals win games, it is a Hobson’s Choice. Yet, in his post-match press conference, one journalist claimed his “luck had run out” as a manager. Another suggested he had been“humiliated” by failing to qualify for the World Cup. Ireland simply don't have enough quality, particularly up front Credit: Getty images As for the coverage in the aftermath of the Denmark defeat, the sentiments were clear. O’Neill was to blame for Ireland’s failure to qualify and people are already questioning the wisdom in offering him two more years. Emotions always run high in the wake of a devastating defeat, but there has been undercurrent of animosity towards O’Neill swimming just below the surface throughout his four-year reign. His demeanour, his prickliness and, at times his personality, have helped provoke that, but those who dislike him must ask, who would they prefer in his place and who could have done more? It is the nature of the beast. Success or failure in international football, sends a shudder through the national consciousness that cannot be matched by other sports. Just ask the Italians and the Dutch, who will also not be going to Russia next year. Ireland thought this was the moment the national team would return to the World Cup stage after a 16-year absence and they failed. The dream died and someone has to be blamed. At the moment, the blame is heaped upon O’Neill. That’s management, and he has to take it, but could put him off returning in the spring. Scotland are looking for a new manager, so might Northern Ireland soon. More pertinently, O’Neill has a CV that would put him the frame for countless vacancies at club level in the future. After four years with Ireland, he may simply have had enough.

Joe Gomez proving a Liverpool bargain after adding Neymar to list of players he kept under wraps

As the world’s most expensive footballer found out at Wembley on Tuesday night, Joe Gomez enjoys a challenge. Aged just 20, Liverpool defender Gomez has already faced a number of potentially career-defining decisions and his long-term thinking could yet land him a place in England’s World Cup squad. He could have joined Chelsea as a 15-year-old with his best friend Kasey Palmer, but chose to stay at Charlton Athletic. There were sleepless nights wondering if he had made the right decision as Palmer became a Uefa Youth League winner at Stamford Bridge, but Gomez wanted first-team football. Charlton’s former academy manager Paul Hart promoted Gomez to the Under-18s when he was still aged 13 and helped to convince him to turn down a switch to Chelsea. “We didn’t want to hold him back, but we explained we thought it would be beneficial to stay longer, learn his trade and try to get in the first team, and then go,” said Hart. “We had his mum and dad, and his agent along and they listened to what we said, trusted us and bought into it.” A former defender himself, Hart brought through Jonathan Woodgate at Leeds United and Michael Dawson at Nottingham Forest, and also managed Des Walker at the City Ground. “You try not to have favourites, but I was always very impressed with Joe,” said Hart. “But he wasn’t the finished article and to play as a centre-back, aerially he had to get better. You can be as good as you like, but you have to win your headers. Charlton’s former academy manager Paul Hart also helped develop Jonathan Woodgate Credit: getty images “I remember telling Joe about Jonathan Woodgate, who missed a header from a corner in a game and I shouted ‘if you miss the next one, you’ll come and stand with me’. He smashed into the next header, got knocked out and had to go to hospital. I went with him and the first thing Jonathan asked when he came round was ‘did I head it?’ That physical and mental toughness is what I wanted to get into Joe and he took it on board.” Bob Peeters was the Charlton manager who rewarded Gomez with his first-team debut as a 17-year-old and he went on to make 24 appearances for the Addicks by the end of the 2014/15 season, a full year before Palmer was named as an unused substitute by Chelsea for the first time. The Blues were among the clubs, along with Arsenal, Red Bull Leipzig and Hoffenheim, who were battling to sign Gomez in the summer of 2015, but he opted for Liverpool because he was convinced he would receive first-team opportunities at Anfield. But a cruciate ligament injury, suffered while playing for England’s Under-21s, and a change of manager during his first four months at Liverpool meant that it was a full year before Jurgen Klopp could even watch Gomez train. Gomez has admitted there were dark days while he was out, particularly when he when he suffered a setback with his Achilles, but he finally played for Klopp 15 months after his initial injury against Plymouth Argyle in the FA Cup in January this year. Gomez chose Liverpool over Arsenal because he saw a clearer path to the first team Credit: Reuters Having played twice more in the FA Cup last season, in the replay with Plymouth and the defeat to Wolverhampton Wanderers, Gomez was asked to be part of Aidy Boothroyd’s England squad for this summer’s Under-21 European Championships. But Gomez again put his long-term ambitions ahead of short-term gain and decided that he would be better served to spend an entire pre-season at Liverpool working with Klopp and trying to win a first-team place at his club. He started in the Premier League for the first time under Klopp in August in a 1-0 victory over Crystal Palace and then helped Liverpool to a thumping 4-0 win against Arsenal – keeping Alexis Sanchez quiet. Just as Sanchez only lasted around an hour against Gomez before being taken off, Antony Martial was substituted after 65 fruitless minutes against the youngster in Liverpool’s goalless draw with Manchester United. Sanchez, Martial and Neymar is not a bad list of forwards to have frustrated just 22 appearances into his Reds career and the £3.5million fee Liverpool paid for Gomez, thanks to a release clause in his contract, already looks like one of the biggest bargains of recent times. Liverpool only had to fork out an extra £250,000 to Charlton as a result of Gomez’s first England start, which will not have bothered anyone watching him keep Brazil’s £200m star in his back pocket. Hart, who is now assistant manager at League Two Luton Town, watched Gomez’s Wembley performance from his home in Nottingham. Gomez kept Neymar quiet at Wembley on Tuesday Credit: PA “I’m just so impressed with the way he has coped with the injury and has come back even stronger,” said Hart. “He has always had a good head on his shoulders and has wanted to learn. “With his ability, together with the way his character and how he handles himself, I can’t imagine any problems for Joe. I just think he will get better and better.” Gomez stayed late into the night at Wembley to talk to those who had come to watch him, including family members, and thank those who have supported him. He was also quick to recognise the fact that England manager Gareth Southgate had taken a chance on the likes of him and Ruben Loftus-Cheek in the friendlies against Germany and Brazil. “I had a relationship with Gareth from when he was the Under-21s coach and I know how good he is as a manager,” said Gomez. “He is great for young players like me, you can see how many opportunities he has given in just this squad alone so it has been great. “I’m learning from all the backroom staff. It is a great effort that is put together to try and produce performances and now we have just got to try and build on it and keep the momentum going into the World Cup.” Gomez certainly has momentum on his side.

Joe Gomez proving a Liverpool bargain after adding Neymar to list of players he kept under wraps

As the world’s most expensive footballer found out at Wembley on Tuesday night, Joe Gomez enjoys a challenge. Aged just 20, Liverpool defender Gomez has already faced a number of potentially career-defining decisions and his long-term thinking could yet land him a place in England’s World Cup squad. He could have joined Chelsea as a 15-year-old with his best friend Kasey Palmer, but chose to stay at Charlton Athletic. There were sleepless nights wondering if he had made the right decision as Palmer became a Uefa Youth League winner at Stamford Bridge, but Gomez wanted first-team football. Charlton’s former academy manager Paul Hart promoted Gomez to the Under-18s when he was still aged 13 and helped to convince him to turn down a switch to Chelsea. “We didn’t want to hold him back, but we explained we thought it would be beneficial to stay longer, learn his trade and try to get in the first team, and then go,” said Hart. “We had his mum and dad, and his agent along and they listened to what we said, trusted us and bought into it.” A former defender himself, Hart brought through Jonathan Woodgate at Leeds United and Michael Dawson at Nottingham Forest, and also managed Des Walker at the City Ground. “You try not to have favourites, but I was always very impressed with Joe,” said Hart. “But he wasn’t the finished article and to play as a centre-back, aerially he had to get better. You can be as good as you like, but you have to win your headers. Charlton’s former academy manager Paul Hart also helped develop Jonathan Woodgate Credit: getty images “I remember telling Joe about Jonathan Woodgate, who missed a header from a corner in a game and I shouted ‘if you miss the next one, you’ll come and stand with me’. He smashed into the next header, got knocked out and had to go to hospital. I went with him and the first thing Jonathan asked when he came round was ‘did I head it?’ That physical and mental toughness is what I wanted to get into Joe and he took it on board.” Bob Peeters was the Charlton manager who rewarded Gomez with his first-team debut as a 17-year-old and he went on to make 24 appearances for the Addicks by the end of the 2014/15 season, a full year before Palmer was named as an unused substitute by Chelsea for the first time. The Blues were among the clubs, along with Arsenal, Red Bull Leipzig and Hoffenheim, who were battling to sign Gomez in the summer of 2015, but he opted for Liverpool because he was convinced he would receive first-team opportunities at Anfield. But a cruciate ligament injury, suffered while playing for England’s Under-21s, and a change of manager during his first four months at Liverpool meant that it was a full year before Jurgen Klopp could even watch Gomez train. Gomez has admitted there were dark days while he was out, particularly when he when he suffered a setback with his Achilles, but he finally played for Klopp 15 months after his initial injury against Plymouth Argyle in the FA Cup in January this year. Gomez chose Liverpool over Arsenal because he saw a clearer path to the first team Credit: Reuters Having played twice more in the FA Cup last season, in the replay with Plymouth and the defeat to Wolverhampton Wanderers, Gomez was asked to be part of Aidy Boothroyd’s England squad for this summer’s Under-21 European Championships. But Gomez again put his long-term ambitions ahead of short-term gain and decided that he would be better served to spend an entire pre-season at Liverpool working with Klopp and trying to win a first-team place at his club. He started in the Premier League for the first time under Klopp in August in a 1-0 victory over Crystal Palace and then helped Liverpool to a thumping 4-0 win against Arsenal – keeping Alexis Sanchez quiet. Just as Sanchez only lasted around an hour against Gomez before being taken off, Antony Martial was substituted after 65 fruitless minutes against the youngster in Liverpool’s goalless draw with Manchester United. Sanchez, Martial and Neymar is not a bad list of forwards to have frustrated just 22 appearances into his Reds career and the £3.5million fee Liverpool paid for Gomez, thanks to a release clause in his contract, already looks like one of the biggest bargains of recent times. Liverpool only had to fork out an extra £250,000 to Charlton as a result of Gomez’s first England start, which will not have bothered anyone watching him keep Brazil’s £200m star in his back pocket. Hart, who is now assistant manager at League Two Luton Town, watched Gomez’s Wembley performance from his home in Nottingham. Gomez kept Neymar quiet at Wembley on Tuesday Credit: PA “I’m just so impressed with the way he has coped with the injury and has come back even stronger,” said Hart. “He has always had a good head on his shoulders and has wanted to learn. “With his ability, together with the way his character and how he handles himself, I can’t imagine any problems for Joe. I just think he will get better and better.” Gomez stayed late into the night at Wembley to talk to those who had come to watch him, including family members, and thank those who have supported him. He was also quick to recognise the fact that England manager Gareth Southgate had taken a chance on the likes of him and Ruben Loftus-Cheek in the friendlies against Germany and Brazil. “I had a relationship with Gareth from when he was the Under-21s coach and I know how good he is as a manager,” said Gomez. “He is great for young players like me, you can see how many opportunities he has given in just this squad alone so it has been great. “I’m learning from all the backroom staff. It is a great effort that is put together to try and produce performances and now we have just got to try and build on it and keep the momentum going into the World Cup.” Gomez certainly has momentum on his side.

Joe Gomez proving a Liverpool bargain after adding Neymar to list of players he kept under wraps

As the world’s most expensive footballer found out at Wembley on Tuesday night, Joe Gomez enjoys a challenge. Aged just 20, Liverpool defender Gomez has already faced a number of potentially career-defining decisions and his long-term thinking could yet land him a place in England’s World Cup squad. He could have joined Chelsea as a 15-year-old with his best friend Kasey Palmer, but chose to stay at Charlton Athletic. There were sleepless nights wondering if he had made the right decision as Palmer became a Uefa Youth League winner at Stamford Bridge, but Gomez wanted first-team football. Charlton’s former academy manager Paul Hart promoted Gomez to the Under-18s when he was still aged 13 and helped to convince him to turn down a switch to Chelsea. “We didn’t want to hold him back, but we explained we thought it would be beneficial to stay longer, learn his trade and try to get in the first team, and then go,” said Hart. “We had his mum and dad, and his agent along and they listened to what we said, trusted us and bought into it.” A former defender himself, Hart brought through Jonathan Woodgate at Leeds United and Michael Dawson at Nottingham Forest, and also managed Des Walker at the City Ground. “You try not to have favourites, but I was always very impressed with Joe,” said Hart. “But he wasn’t the finished article and to play as a centre-back, aerially he had to get better. You can be as good as you like, but you have to win your headers. Charlton’s former academy manager Paul Hart also helped develop Jonathan Woodgate Credit: getty images “I remember telling Joe about Jonathan Woodgate, who missed a header from a corner in a game and I shouted ‘if you miss the next one, you’ll come and stand with me’. He smashed into the next header, got knocked out and had to go to hospital. I went with him and the first thing Jonathan asked when he came round was ‘did I head it?’ That physical and mental toughness is what I wanted to get into Joe and he took it on board.” Bob Peeters was the Charlton manager who rewarded Gomez with his first-team debut as a 17-year-old and he went on to make 24 appearances for the Addicks by the end of the 2014/15 season, a full year before Palmer was named as an unused substitute by Chelsea for the first time. The Blues were among the clubs, along with Arsenal, Red Bull Leipzig and Hoffenheim, who were battling to sign Gomez in the summer of 2015, but he opted for Liverpool because he was convinced he would receive first-team opportunities at Anfield. But a cruciate ligament injury, suffered while playing for England’s Under-21s, and a change of manager during his first four months at Liverpool meant that it was a full year before Jurgen Klopp could even watch Gomez train. Gomez has admitted there were dark days while he was out, particularly when he when he suffered a setback with his Achilles, but he finally played for Klopp 15 months after his initial injury against Plymouth Argyle in the FA Cup in January this year. Gomez chose Liverpool over Arsenal because he saw a clearer path to the first team Credit: Reuters Having played twice more in the FA Cup last season, in the replay with Plymouth and the defeat to Wolverhampton Wanderers, Gomez was asked to be part of Aidy Boothroyd’s England squad for this summer’s Under-21 European Championships. But Gomez again put his long-term ambitions ahead of short-term gain and decided that he would be better served to spend an entire pre-season at Liverpool working with Klopp and trying to win a first-team place at his club. He started in the Premier League for the first time under Klopp in August in a 1-0 victory over Crystal Palace and then helped Liverpool to a thumping 4-0 win against Arsenal – keeping Alexis Sanchez quiet. Just as Sanchez only lasted around an hour against Gomez before being taken off, Antony Martial was substituted after 65 fruitless minutes against the youngster in Liverpool’s goalless draw with Manchester United. Sanchez, Martial and Neymar is not a bad list of forwards to have frustrated just 22 appearances into his Reds career and the £3.5million fee Liverpool paid for Gomez, thanks to a release clause in his contract, already looks like one of the biggest bargains of recent times. Liverpool only had to fork out an extra £250,000 to Charlton as a result of Gomez’s first England start, which will not have bothered anyone watching him keep Brazil’s £200m star in his back pocket. Hart, who is now assistant manager at League Two Luton Town, watched Gomez’s Wembley performance from his home in Nottingham. Gomez kept Neymar quiet at Wembley on Tuesday Credit: PA “I’m just so impressed with the way he has coped with the injury and has come back even stronger,” said Hart. “He has always had a good head on his shoulders and has wanted to learn. “With his ability, together with the way his character and how he handles himself, I can’t imagine any problems for Joe. I just think he will get better and better.” Gomez stayed late into the night at Wembley to talk to those who had come to watch him, including family members, and thank those who have supported him. He was also quick to recognise the fact that England manager Gareth Southgate had taken a chance on the likes of him and Ruben Loftus-Cheek in the friendlies against Germany and Brazil. “I had a relationship with Gareth from when he was the Under-21s coach and I know how good he is as a manager,” said Gomez. “He is great for young players like me, you can see how many opportunities he has given in just this squad alone so it has been great. “I’m learning from all the backroom staff. It is a great effort that is put together to try and produce performances and now we have just got to try and build on it and keep the momentum going into the World Cup.” Gomez certainly has momentum on his side.

Republic of Ireland focused on qualifying for World Cup finals – not winning plaudits for beautiful football

Denmark assume the Republic of Ireland will have to play a different sort of game against them in the second leg of their World Cup play-off, that they will have to open up, expand and attack. The Danes believe they will be easier to beat as a result. They are likely to be disappointed. Ireland do not feel the need to impress anyone with the quality of their football, they are not seeking admiring glances from the opposition, they are not even particularly interested in praise. They are focused on the job and the prize at the end of it. The result is all that matters, getting to the World Cup is all that concerns them. Everything else is largely irrelevant. This is Martin O’Neill’s Ireland, pragmatic, dogmatic, yet still capable of magical results when they need them, as Germany, Italy, Austria and Wales have discovered. They ground Denmark into submission on Copenhagen, rarely bothering to attack, so focused where they on protecting their own goal. It suffocated the game as a spectacle, but ensures they go into the second leg with a real chance of reaching their first World Cup for 16 years. There are plenty of accusations that can be thrown at them for their lack of ambition, yet Ireland still came close to snatching an away goal. This is what Ireland do, this is how they secured a play-off place and they will not change, not now. Not when so much is at stake. They will not be lured into playing the sort of game Denmark want them to play. “It was a difficult night because they’re a good team,” said Brighton centre-back Shane Duffy. “It was scruffy and ugly, maybe we could have put our foot on the ball a bit more, but we were solid. Ireland centre-back Shane Duffy has admitted that Saturday's game was 'difficult' Credit: Getty Images “I thought they were good, we defended well. Yeah, it was a difficult night, but we’re satisfied we didn’t lose the game, kept a clean sheet and we take it back to Dublin now. “It’s going to be another tough night on Tuesday, but nothing we haven’t come up against before. We’ll go in with the same game plan obviously, we’ll be hard to beat. We’ll be disciplined, we know we can score goals, we’re at home... we’ve still got to respect them, they’ve got players who can cut you open, we’ve got to concentrate and that’s what we’ll do. “You can’t get ahead of yourselves and go all guns blazing and lose the match early on, we’ve got to soak up their pressure. I’m quite confident they won’t score in Dublin and when the time is right, we’ll get a goal.” Sam Wallace's Power Rankings 42:04 That has not stopped the former Arsenal, Sunderland and Birmingham City striker, Nicklas Bendtner arguing the second leg will take Ireland’s main strength away from them. Then again, it is not the first time Bendtner, who is winding down his once promising career with Norwegian champions Rosenborg, has misread a situation. “Maybe we thought they would come a little bit more out of the blocks,” said Bendtner, who has lost his place in Denmark’s starting XI after disappointing spells at Juventus, Wolfsburg and Nottingham Forest. “We thought they would attack more in numbers than just kick the ball away and hope to hit a player. Nicklas Bendtner expects a 'different match' in the second leg of the World Cup play-off Credit: Getty Images “But they defended with their lives, like we have seen. We had three good chances, maybe we could have done better on some of them. But they defended really well. They were strong and together. So, we have to match that again away from home, take our chance and hopefully score a goal. “I think it will be a different match. They know that they can’t play a match where they have to stay so deep. They know they have to come out and try to score. They can’t play a game of that importance for zero-zero. It’s not possible. I think it’s going to be a little bit more open, will also allow us to get more space. It will be a more interesting match.” O’Neill will not be swayed by that. After all, Denmark also need to score and they are just as desperate to get to Russia. Like a high-stakes poker game, it could well be down to who loses nerve first and leaves themselves vulnerable.

Republic of Ireland focused on qualifying for World Cup finals – not winning plaudits for beautiful football

Denmark assume the Republic of Ireland will have to play a different sort of game against them in the second leg of their World Cup play-off, that they will have to open up, expand and attack. The Danes believe they will be easier to beat as a result. They are likely to be disappointed. Ireland do not feel the need to impress anyone with the quality of their football, they are not seeking admiring glances from the opposition, they are not even particularly interested in praise. They are focused on the job and the prize at the end of it. The result is all that matters, getting to the World Cup is all that concerns them. Everything else is largely irrelevant. This is Martin O’Neill’s Ireland, pragmatic, dogmatic, yet still capable of magical results when they need them, as Germany, Italy, Austria and Wales have discovered. They ground Denmark into submission on Copenhagen, rarely bothering to attack, so focused where they on protecting their own goal. It suffocated the game as a spectacle, but ensures they go into the second leg with a real chance of reaching their first World Cup for 16 years. There are plenty of accusations that can be thrown at them for their lack of ambition, yet Ireland still came close to snatching an away goal. This is what Ireland do, this is how they secured a play-off place and they will not change, not now. Not when so much is at stake. They will not be lured into playing the sort of game Denmark want them to play. “It was a difficult night because they’re a good team,” said Brighton centre-back Shane Duffy. “It was scruffy and ugly, maybe we could have put our foot on the ball a bit more, but we were solid. Ireland centre-back Shane Duffy has admitted that Saturday's game was 'difficult' Credit: Getty Images “I thought they were good, we defended well. Yeah, it was a difficult night, but we’re satisfied we didn’t lose the game, kept a clean sheet and we take it back to Dublin now. “It’s going to be another tough night on Tuesday, but nothing we haven’t come up against before. We’ll go in with the same game plan obviously, we’ll be hard to beat. We’ll be disciplined, we know we can score goals, we’re at home... we’ve still got to respect them, they’ve got players who can cut you open, we’ve got to concentrate and that’s what we’ll do. “You can’t get ahead of yourselves and go all guns blazing and lose the match early on, we’ve got to soak up their pressure. I’m quite confident they won’t score in Dublin and when the time is right, we’ll get a goal.” Sam Wallace's Power Rankings 42:04 That has not stopped the former Arsenal, Sunderland and Birmingham City striker, Nicklas Bendtner arguing the second leg will take Ireland’s main strength away from them. Then again, it is not the first time Bendtner, who is winding down his once promising career with Norwegian champions Rosenborg, has misread a situation. “Maybe we thought they would come a little bit more out of the blocks,” said Bendtner, who has lost his place in Denmark’s starting XI after disappointing spells at Juventus, Wolfsburg and Nottingham Forest. “We thought they would attack more in numbers than just kick the ball away and hope to hit a player. Nicklas Bendtner expects a 'different match' in the second leg of the World Cup play-off Credit: Getty Images “But they defended with their lives, like we have seen. We had three good chances, maybe we could have done better on some of them. But they defended really well. They were strong and together. So, we have to match that again away from home, take our chance and hopefully score a goal. “I think it will be a different match. They know that they can’t play a match where they have to stay so deep. They know they have to come out and try to score. They can’t play a game of that importance for zero-zero. It’s not possible. I think it’s going to be a little bit more open, will also allow us to get more space. It will be a more interesting match.” O’Neill will not be swayed by that. After all, Denmark also need to score and they are just as desperate to get to Russia. Like a high-stakes poker game, it could well be down to who loses nerve first and leaves themselves vulnerable.

Republic of Ireland focused on qualifying for World Cup finals – not winning plaudits for beautiful football

Denmark assume the Republic of Ireland will have to play a different sort of game against them in the second leg of their World Cup play-off, that they will have to open up, expand and attack. The Danes believe they will be easier to beat as a result. They are likely to be disappointed. Ireland do not feel the need to impress anyone with the quality of their football, they are not seeking admiring glances from the opposition, they are not even particularly interested in praise. They are focused on the job and the prize at the end of it. The result is all that matters, getting to the World Cup is all that concerns them. Everything else is largely irrelevant. This is Martin O’Neill’s Ireland, pragmatic, dogmatic, yet still capable of magical results when they need them, as Germany, Italy, Austria and Wales have discovered. They ground Denmark into submission on Copenhagen, rarely bothering to attack, so focused where they on protecting their own goal. It suffocated the game as a spectacle, but ensures they go into the second leg with a real chance of reaching their first World Cup for 16 years. There are plenty of accusations that can be thrown at them for their lack of ambition, yet Ireland still came close to snatching an away goal. This is what Ireland do, this is how they secured a play-off place and they will not change, not now. Not when so much is at stake. They will not be lured into playing the sort of game Denmark want them to play. “It was a difficult night because they’re a good team,” said Brighton centre-back Shane Duffy. “It was scruffy and ugly, maybe we could have put our foot on the ball a bit more, but we were solid. Ireland centre-back Shane Duffy has admitted that Saturday's game was 'difficult' Credit: Getty Images “I thought they were good, we defended well. Yeah, it was a difficult night, but we’re satisfied we didn’t lose the game, kept a clean sheet and we take it back to Dublin now. “It’s going to be another tough night on Tuesday, but nothing we haven’t come up against before. We’ll go in with the same game plan obviously, we’ll be hard to beat. We’ll be disciplined, we know we can score goals, we’re at home... we’ve still got to respect them, they’ve got players who can cut you open, we’ve got to concentrate and that’s what we’ll do. “You can’t get ahead of yourselves and go all guns blazing and lose the match early on, we’ve got to soak up their pressure. I’m quite confident they won’t score in Dublin and when the time is right, we’ll get a goal.” Sam Wallace's Power Rankings 42:04 That has not stopped the former Arsenal, Sunderland and Birmingham City striker, Nicklas Bendtner arguing the second leg will take Ireland’s main strength away from them. Then again, it is not the first time Bendtner, who is winding down his once promising career with Norwegian champions Rosenborg, has misread a situation. “Maybe we thought they would come a little bit more out of the blocks,” said Bendtner, who has lost his place in Denmark’s starting XI after disappointing spells at Juventus, Wolfsburg and Nottingham Forest. “We thought they would attack more in numbers than just kick the ball away and hope to hit a player. Nicklas Bendtner expects a 'different match' in the second leg of the World Cup play-off Credit: Getty Images “But they defended with their lives, like we have seen. We had three good chances, maybe we could have done better on some of them. But they defended really well. They were strong and together. So, we have to match that again away from home, take our chance and hopefully score a goal. “I think it will be a different match. They know that they can’t play a match where they have to stay so deep. They know they have to come out and try to score. They can’t play a game of that importance for zero-zero. It’s not possible. I think it’s going to be a little bit more open, will also allow us to get more space. It will be a more interesting match.” O’Neill will not be swayed by that. After all, Denmark also need to score and they are just as desperate to get to Russia. Like a high-stakes poker game, it could well be down to who loses nerve first and leaves themselves vulnerable.

Northern Ireland 0 Switzerland 1: Furious Jonny Evans says penalty decision was 'even worse than the Thierry Henry v Ireland handball'

The good news for Northern Ireland is they still have another 90 minutes to try to put things right but they will travel to Basel for the second leg of this World Cup play-off on Sunday nursing an acute and indisputable sense of injustice. Switzerland were the better team but they owe their slender lead largely thanks to an alarmingly incompetent piece of officiating from Romanian referee Ovidiu Hategan that Michael O’Neill called the worst he had ever seen in international football and saw the biggest night of football in Belfast for 36 years descend into acrimony. “Staggering” and “bewildering” were two of the other words the livid Northern Ireland manager used to describe Hategan’s decision to penalise Corry Evans for a perceived handball, when in fact the ball had hit his back, and award the Swiss a penalty that Ricardo Rodriguez converted. To compound matters, Evans picked up a booking in the process and will now be suspended for the second leg and Hategan’s decision to book rather than send off Switzerland defender Fabian Schar for an awful, two footed lunge on Stuart Dallas in the fifth minute merely added insult to injury. Dallas struggled on before being substituted early in the second half and could also now miss the return game. What is it about the Irish, handballs and World Cup play-offs? Few across the border in Ireland have forgotten about Thierry Henry’s unpunished handball in the lead up to the goal from William Gallas that controversially sent France to the 2010 World Cup finals. The ball hits Corry Evans' back - but a penalty was given Credit:  Getty Images Europe And if Hategan’s ineptitude is not to play a crucial role in taking Switzerland to Russia, Northern Ireland will have to make history. No team has ever lost the first leg of a World Cup play-off at home and retrieved the situation. They must also overcome a side that has not lost a competitive home match for over three years. "It was actually a worse decision (than Thierry Henry's handball) because the ref has made a call that was not there," Jonny Evans, Corry's brother, said Asked if he had seen a poorer decision from a referee, O’Neill said: “Well certainly not in any of the games that I have been involved in, particularly at this level, no. I am not in a position to say the referee is incompetent but it’s just staggering in this day and age when the stakes are so high that something like that is a game changer. “The ball clearly strikes Corry on the back and the referee has a clear view of the incident. I thought he had given an offside or something. I spent three hours in a video conference with Fifa the other week on video assistant referees (VAR) and certainly when you see what happened tonight you would be an advocate of it.” VAR will be trialled for the first time in an official game in the UK in England’s friendly against Germany at Wembley on Friday evening although a fat lot of good that does Northern Ireland. In truth, though, help and video replays should not have been required in this instance, and when Hategan did point to the spot, the only surprise greater than that on the faces of the players was that the assistant referee did not intervene and explain to Hategan the error of his ways. Rodriguez gets a pass away down the Switzerland left  Xherdan Shaqiri’s reaction after rifling a volley at Evans, who was standing only a few yards away, was telling in itself. There was no appeal for a penalty from the Stoke playmaker who, like most others, had seen Evans turn his back on the shot and watch it deflect off the upper back part of his shoulder and away. “It was disgraceful,” Evans said. “I clearly didn’t put my hand up. I know it him me on the back of the shoulder and I’m just absolutely gutted. He’s booked me which means I’m out of the second leg as well which is devastating.” Just as Northern Ireland cannot allow anger to ruin their focus in Basel, though – O’Neill talked about channeling that rage – so they will have to perform better than they did here. Northern Ireland vs Switzerland shots on goal Switzerland created the better chances and looked the superior side, although Northern Ireland’s reaction after the penalty was impressive. However, for large periods of the first half they were sucked deeper and deeper and rode their luck, as they did at times before Rodriguez scored. Haris Seferovic should have scored in the 17th minute. Shaqiri played a sublime raking pass on the turn over the head of Gareth McAuley and into the path of the Benfica striker, who stuck out a foot and poked the ball towards the far corner which Michael McGovern managed to get his fingertips to. Jonny Evans had earlier made a terrific block to deny Blerim Dzemaili, who later provided a cross that Seferovic narrowly failed to reach as it zipped across the face of the goal. Northern Ireland’s best hope of a goal looked to be from a set-piece but they wasted a series of good dead ball situations and Josh Magennis was guilty of sending a header wide from an inviting position from Chris Brunt’s free-kick. 9:36PM Full-time That's that. The full-time whistle goes and it finishes Northern Ireland 0 Switzerland 1.  Switzerland were much the better side, but their winning goal was never a penalty in a million years. The Swiss could also have been down to 10 men after a few minutes for Fabian Schar's reckless challenge on Stuart Dallas.  9:35PM 90+4 min Slightly comical moment here as Saville goes charging over to berate Lichtsteiner after the full-back goes down with cramp.  9:33PM 90+2 min Xhaka gives away a needless free-kick around 40 yards out. Brunt clips it in, but Switzerland hack the ball away.  9:31PM 90 min End to end stuff as Northern Ireland go flooding forward, which is leaving themselves open to the counter.  Four minutes of time added on... Northern Ireland vs Switzerland shots on goal 9:30PM 89 min Akanji was brought in to replace the injured Djourou tonight, and he's barely put a foot wrong. So quick and lots of clever interceptions.  9:28PM 87 min Final Swiss change as Mehmedi comes on for the very impressive Zuber.  9:27PM 86 min Saville bursts into the box and goes down under the challenge of Xhaka. The crowd scream for a penalty, but it's an excellent tackle with the ball won cleanly. Even Gerry Armstrong accepts the decision!  9:25PM 85 min Still no shots on target from NI, who have really lacked quality in the final third tonight.  Northern Ireland vs Switzerland shots on goal 9:25PM 84 min Penalty shout for Northern Ireland as Magennis' header hits Rodriguez from close in, but it's his chest rather than his hand.  Switzerland make another change, as Frei comes on for Dzemaili.  9:22PM 81 min NI asking questions of their opponents with a flurry of long throws, but Switzerland are holding firm at the moment.  9:19PM 78 min Switzerland make their first change - Embolo on for Seferovic.  NI make their last change - Washington on for Lafferty.  9:14PM 74 min Lafferty wins another free-kick for his team, and this time it's within shooting distance. It's a few yards to the right, so well set up for Brunt's left foot - about 25 yards out. Brunt goes for power, but it's wide of the far post.   9:13PM 71 min Best chance of the night for NI, and unsurprisingly it came from a set play. Brunt curls in an absolute peach from the right, but Magennis nods a free header wide. Huge opportunity gone.  Michael O'Neill tries to get his team going  9:10PM 69 min The visitors are going for the kill, but Shaqiri can't get enough on his pull-back and McGovern gratefully gathers.  9:08PM 67 min  Switzerland stroking the ball around comfortably, as they've done for much of the game.  Possession: Northern Ireland vs Switzerland 9:06PM 65 min Another NI change - Corry Evans off for the Millwall midfielder George Saville.  9:05PM 64 min  Ward, whose been a ball of energy since coming on, is booked for a late challenge on Lichtsteiner.  9:03PM 62 min A very old-school chant of "The referee's a w*****" rings around Windsor Park.  9:02PM 60 min Corry Evans meanwhile picked up a booking for that 'handball', and he'll be suspended for the second leg. Gerry Armstrong is absolutely raging about the decision! It did look harsh to be fair.  Evans was so close to Shaqiri and I'm not sure it even hit his hand!  8:59PM GOAL! Northern Ireland 0 Switzerland 1 (Rodriguez 58') Rodriguez sweeps the ball into the bottom right-hand corner with his left foot, sending McGovern the wrong way.  Northern Ireland 0 - 1 Switzerland (Ricardo Rodríguez, 58 min) 8:58PM 57 min Penalty Switzerland! Shaqiri's volley is blocked by Corry Evans, and the referee deems it as handball. That looks very harsh given how close Evans was to Shaqiri when he made the block.  8:57PM 56 min Oh my, Switzerland are inches away from taking the lead. Dzemaili fizzes a low cross that is just in front of Seferovic, who would have had a tap in from a couple of yards out. Switzerland can't believe they haven't scored.  8:54PM 53 min Shaqiri has a go from about 30 yards, but I'm not exaggerating when I say it's closer to flying out of the stadium than hitting the back of the net. Switzerland running out of ideas?  8:53PM 52 min The rain is flying down now, and it's pathetic fallacy for Dallas, who looks gutted to be replaced by Nottingham Forest winger Jamie Ward.  8:51PM 49 min Dallas is still on, but he's really not moving freely. Come on pal, think it's time to go off.  8:48PM 46 min That is mighty close for Switzerland. Brunt misses Rodriguez's cross, and the ball falls to Shaqiri on the edge of the box. The Stoke man cuts inside and curls a beauty of a shot that just tickles the crossbar as it floats agonisingly too high. NI living extremely dangerously.  8:47PM 46 min We're back underway. Dallas is back out for NI despite that ankle knock.  8:41PM Deadlock Lots of Swiss probing, plenty of dogged Northern Irish defending, and a whole lot of nothing on the scoreboard. Lichtsteiner, Zakaria and Zuber have all impressed for Switzerland, while Jonny Evans has been a rock at the back for the hosts.   The main talking point has been whether Schar should have been sent off for clattering into Dallas. It's a call that really could have gone either way, and isn't that interesting to keep poring over. Northern Ireland vs Switzerland shots on goal 8:31PM Half-time Switzerland well on top, but it's goalless at the break.  8:30PM 45 min Very nearly for Switzerland, but Lichtsteiner slips as he tries to latch onto Seferovic's flick-on. The full-back was clean through if he'd kept his feet.  Possession: Northern Ireland vs Switzerland 8:27PM 43 min Shaqiri and Lichtsteiner are so dangerous in tandem down the Swiss right, but it's brilliant defensive work by Jonny Evans to block the right back's cross after the pair had linked up once again.  8:26PM 42 min Dallas is back on, but wincing in pain. He actually manages to get on the ball straight away and dig out a cross, but it's badly misplaced.  8:25PM 41 min Real shame for Northern Ireland. Dallas has not recovered from getting clobbered by Schar early on, and he's surely going to have to be replaced. Gerry Armstrong is insistent that it should have been a red card. Personally I think that would have been a touch harsh.  8:23PM 38 min NI try their luck with another long throw, and Lafferty feels he was pushed in the area by Schar as he tried to get on the end of it. Nothing really in that though.  8:20PM 35 min Zakaria in the centre of midfield is really having an excellent game and making his presence felt. He and Xhaka are running the show at the moment. Seferovic meanwhile heads Lichtsteiner's cross well off target.  8:16PM 31 min Switzerland counter at break-neck speed and eventually win a free-kick down the left. Xhaka whips it in, and it's a good one, but Evans manages to head it away.  Northern Ireland vs Switzerland shots on goal 8:14PM 29 min Some respite for Northern Ireland as they force Switzerland into a few clever headed clearances from some hoiked crosses into the box.  8:12PM 27 min Switzerland are putting together some lovely passing moves, but as yet they can't quite make a breakthrough. To give you an idea of how the game is panning out - Switzerland have made 162 passes to Northern Ireland's 53.  8:09PM 23 min Lichtsteiner once more comes flying forward down the right and he digs out a cross that Zuber can't quite get a good connection on. All Switzerland at the moment.  8:06PM 20 min We probably knew this already but for NI to qualify, Switzerland are going to have to be extremely wasteful over the two legs. The visitors look like creating chances pretty much every time they go forward.  8:04PM 18 min Yeah this is a really strong period for Switzerland. Lichtsteiner is again in lots of space down the right, and his low pinpoint cross is cleared by McAuley. Moments later Shaqiri picks out Seferovic with a beautiful diagonal, but the striker's hooked volley is well saved by McGovern. Backs to the wall stuff from Northern Ireland.  Attempt Saved: Northern Ireland 0 - 0 Switzerland (Haris Seferovic, 18 min) 8:01PM 17 min Switzerland offer a real threat down both flanks, and this time it's down the right where they make hay. Lichtsteiner bombs forward and clips in a lovely cross that just evades Zuber.  7:59PM 14 min NI look most dangerous from set pieces, and a high ball into the box is met well by McAuley before Lafferty has a volley deflected wide. The resulting corner is headed over by Jonny Evans from about 10 yards out. Not an easy chance.  7:58PM 12 min Zubrr does brilliantly down the left - he looks a real handful - and he picks out Xhaka around 25 yards from goal. Again though the Arsenal man is off target with a left-footed curler.  Miss: Northern Ireland 0 - 0 Switzerland (Granit Xhaka, 12 min) 7:55PM 9 min Switzerland enjoy a good period and create a couple of decent chances. First Dzemaili has a shot blocked inside the area before Xhaka fires over from the edge of the box. The pressure is really building for Switzerland here.  7:52PM 6 min Brunt hoists in the resulting free-kick, which is headed clear by Xhaka. That Dallas break incidentally came from a misplaced Xhaka pass.  7:50PM 5 min Schar picks up an early booking for a really bad tackle on Dallas. He went absolutely flying into the Northern Ireland forward as he broke clear down the left.  7:48PM 4 min Lafferty stabs a volley well wide from another Magennis cross as NI try and keep the pressure up in the early stages.  7:47PM 3 min The noise really is deafening, and the stadium is awash with green and white. Magennis does well down the right and whips a cross in, but it's well cleared by the Swiss defence. Real up and at 'em start from the hosts.  7:45PM Kick-off We're under way. A reminder of the teams - Michael O'Neill has opted for Kyle Lafferty up front ahead of Conor Washington.  Northern Ireland (4-3-3): McGovern; McLaughlin, McAuley, J Evans, Brunt; Norwood, C Evans, Davis; Magennis, Lafferty, Dallas. Switzerland (4-2-3-1): Sommer; Lichtsteiner, Akanji, Schar, Rodriguez; Xhaka, Zakaria; Shaqiri, Dzemaili, Zuber; Seferovic. 7:43PM What a noise The anthems are belted out, and Steven Davis is presented with a trophy to mark him winning his 100th NI cap. I feel I'm contractually obliged to describe this as a 'nice touch'.  7:39PM Fortress Windsor NI have won nine of their last 11 home matches, and the atmosphere at Windsor Park is absolutely electric. Teams are in the tunnel about to come out... 7:19PM On a tightrope Steven Davis, Jonny Evans, Corry Evans, Stuart Dallas, Oliver Norwood and Josh Magennis are all one yellow card away from a suspension that would rule them out of the second leg. 7:11PM What's been said Northern Ireland ended a 30-year wait for a finals appearance as they reached Euro 2016 and Josh Magennis, 27, wants to again experience the wave of emotion which greeted that achievement. "We didn't realise the magnitude of [qualifying for] France until we were here about to go and social media-wise and media-wise, it was just everywhere. "What it did for the country, not just ourselves, was basically unite people for about a month. It was absolutely massive." Northern Ireland captain Steven Davis, who is set to win his 100th cap, says his side must get their midfield balance right at Windsor Park. "From seeing some early analysis of them, they're clearly very comfortable in possession," said the Northern Ireland skipper. "It's going to be a difficult game. If you look at their results in qualifying, they were very unfortunate not to qualify automatically for the World Cup.  Steve Davis wins his 100th cap on Thursday night "The biggest thing for us is going to be getting that balance right, between pressing and cutting off the lines for them to play through. "If we can do that, we know we've got the quality to hurt them, and there are weaknesses we can exploit." 6:58PM Preamble Evening all, Can Northern Ireland take a big step tonight towards ending 31 years of hurt by qualifying for their first World Cup since 1986? Standing in their way are Switzerland, who have qualified for the previous three World Cups and are a little miffed to be in the playoffs having taken 27 points from their 10 group matches. In fact they're probably feeling a bit like someone who's just smashed a job interview only to be told "sorry, we had the absolutely perfect candidate come in after you".  But anyway, enough of my employment history, here the Swiss are at Windsor Park where they will be up against the formidable Northern Irish rearguard that kept seven clean sheets in 10 qualifying matches.  The West Brom pair of Gareth McAuley and Jonny Evans are the defensive bedrock of the side, while further forward Steven Davis will provide the dynamism and energy from midfield as he earns his 100th international cap.  Up front, Kyle Lafferty (one of those David Healy/Miroslav Klose types who is far better at international than club level) and Josh Magennis will look to unsettle the Swiss back four, which is without former Arsenal centre-back Johan Djourou. Current Arsenal midfielder Granit Xhaka will pull the strings for Switzerland tonight, while Xherdan Shaqiri will be tasked with providing the creative spark.  Juventus's Stephan Lichtsteiner and AC Milan's Ricardo Rodriguez will offer width and an attacking threat from the full-back positions.  My prediction for what it's worth is Northern Ireland 0 Switzerland 1.  6:51PM Teams are in  Northern Ireland:McGovern, McLaughlin, McAuley, J Evans, Brunt, Norwood , C Evans, Davis, Magennis, Lafferty, Dallas Switzerland: Sommer, Lichtsteiner, Schär, Akanji, Rodríguez, Xhaka, Zakaria, Shaqiri, Dzemaili, Zuber, Seferovic 6:06PM Preview - Fighting talk from Ward We'll be back at 6.45pm with the team news and then the build-up to tonight's World Cup play-off, but before then here's a wee preview from our pals at the Press Association.  Jamie Ward has cranked up the pressure on Switzerland by telling them Northern Ireland will thrive as the underdogs in their World Cup play-off. The Northern Irish missed out on being seeded for the draw last month by virtue of their world ranking, so knew they would face either the Swiss, Italy, Croatia or Denmark over two legs to determine their Russia fate. Nottingham Forest forward Ward, back in Michael O'Neill's fold for the first time since March having overcome a calf problem, had no qualms with that and has told Switzerland they have to handle the expectation. Vladimir Petkovic's team arrived in Belfast on Tuesday ahead of Thursday's first leg, and Ward said: "They've got to take their chances. Everyone is expecting them to win in the football world. Michael O'Neill has done a magnificent job as Northern Ireland manager Credit: Getty Images "They're obviously the seeded team, so the pressure's more on them than us. "We're always great as the underdogs, so I think it was a bit of a bonus us not being seeded. "If you're seeded, you get a little more pressure on yourself so we'll go into this game as underdogs again. Hopefully we can be worthy winners. "We'd love something heading over there. I think we're strong at home and you've seen that over the last few years. "If we play the way we can play, I don't see why we can't take a lead out there or at least a positive result." Should O'Neill's team find a way past the Swiss, they would end a 32-year exile from the World Cup finals and become the first Northern Irish side in history to make back-to-back major tournaments. With Wales and Scotland already out of the running, and the Republic of Ireland involved in their own play-off, Ward feels the Northern Irish are still not getting the recognition they warrant. "I think people see it as it's Northern Ireland and they've not done well for a long time, but on the other side they will go and buy players from the Republic squad," he added. "Premier League clubs are happy to do that. We're just as good as them, but it's obviously someone taking a risk or a chance on us and letting us prove we're worth playing at the next level."

Northern Ireland 0 Switzerland 1: Furious Jonny Evans says penalty decision was 'even worse than the Thierry Henry v Ireland handball'

The good news for Northern Ireland is they still have another 90 minutes to try to put things right but they will travel to Basel for the second leg of this World Cup play-off on Sunday nursing an acute and indisputable sense of injustice. Switzerland were the better team but they owe their slender lead largely thanks to an alarmingly incompetent piece of officiating from Romanian referee Ovidiu Hategan that Michael O’Neill called the worst he had ever seen in international football and saw the biggest night of football in Belfast for 36 years descend into acrimony. “Staggering” and “bewildering” were two of the other words the livid Northern Ireland manager used to describe Hategan’s decision to penalise Corry Evans for a perceived handball, when in fact the ball had hit his back, and award the Swiss a penalty that Ricardo Rodriguez converted. To compound matters, Evans picked up a booking in the process and will now be suspended for the second leg and Hategan’s decision to book rather than send off Switzerland defender Fabian Schar for an awful, two footed lunge on Stuart Dallas in the fifth minute merely added insult to injury. Dallas struggled on before being substituted early in the second half and could also now miss the return game. What is it about the Irish, handballs and World Cup play-offs? Few across the border in Ireland have forgotten about Thierry Henry’s unpunished handball in the lead up to the goal from William Gallas that controversially sent France to the 2010 World Cup finals. The ball hits Corry Evans' back - but a penalty was given Credit:  Getty Images Europe And if Hategan’s ineptitude is not to play a crucial role in taking Switzerland to Russia, Northern Ireland will have to make history. No team has ever lost the first leg of a World Cup play-off at home and retrieved the situation. They must also overcome a side that has not lost a competitive home match for over three years. "It was actually a worse decision (than Thierry Henry's handball) because the ref has made a call that was not there," Jonny Evans, Corry's brother, said Asked if he had seen a poorer decision from a referee, O’Neill said: “Well certainly not in any of the games that I have been involved in, particularly at this level, no. I am not in a position to say the referee is incompetent but it’s just staggering in this day and age when the stakes are so high that something like that is a game changer. “The ball clearly strikes Corry on the back and the referee has a clear view of the incident. I thought he had given an offside or something. I spent three hours in a video conference with Fifa the other week on video assistant referees (VAR) and certainly when you see what happened tonight you would be an advocate of it.” VAR will be trialled for the first time in an official game in the UK in England’s friendly against Germany at Wembley on Friday evening although a fat lot of good that does Northern Ireland. In truth, though, help and video replays should not have been required in this instance, and when Hategan did point to the spot, the only surprise greater than that on the faces of the players was that the assistant referee did not intervene and explain to Hategan the error of his ways. Rodriguez gets a pass away down the Switzerland left  Xherdan Shaqiri’s reaction after rifling a volley at Evans, who was standing only a few yards away, was telling in itself. There was no appeal for a penalty from the Stoke playmaker who, like most others, had seen Evans turn his back on the shot and watch it deflect off the upper back part of his shoulder and away. “It was disgraceful,” Evans said. “I clearly didn’t put my hand up. I know it him me on the back of the shoulder and I’m just absolutely gutted. He’s booked me which means I’m out of the second leg as well which is devastating.” Just as Northern Ireland cannot allow anger to ruin their focus in Basel, though – O’Neill talked about channeling that rage – so they will have to perform better than they did here. Northern Ireland vs Switzerland shots on goal Switzerland created the better chances and looked the superior side, although Northern Ireland’s reaction after the penalty was impressive. However, for large periods of the first half they were sucked deeper and deeper and rode their luck, as they did at times before Rodriguez scored. Haris Seferovic should have scored in the 17th minute. Shaqiri played a sublime raking pass on the turn over the head of Gareth McAuley and into the path of the Benfica striker, who stuck out a foot and poked the ball towards the far corner which Michael McGovern managed to get his fingertips to. Jonny Evans had earlier made a terrific block to deny Blerim Dzemaili, who later provided a cross that Seferovic narrowly failed to reach as it zipped across the face of the goal. Northern Ireland’s best hope of a goal looked to be from a set-piece but they wasted a series of good dead ball situations and Josh Magennis was guilty of sending a header wide from an inviting position from Chris Brunt’s free-kick. 9:36PM Full-time That's that. The full-time whistle goes and it finishes Northern Ireland 0 Switzerland 1.  Switzerland were much the better side, but their winning goal was never a penalty in a million years. The Swiss could also have been down to 10 men after a few minutes for Fabian Schar's reckless challenge on Stuart Dallas.  9:35PM 90+4 min Slightly comical moment here as Saville goes charging over to berate Lichtsteiner after the full-back goes down with cramp.  9:33PM 90+2 min Xhaka gives away a needless free-kick around 40 yards out. Brunt clips it in, but Switzerland hack the ball away.  9:31PM 90 min End to end stuff as Northern Ireland go flooding forward, which is leaving themselves open to the counter.  Four minutes of time added on... Northern Ireland vs Switzerland shots on goal 9:30PM 89 min Akanji was brought in to replace the injured Djourou tonight, and he's barely put a foot wrong. So quick and lots of clever interceptions.  9:28PM 87 min Final Swiss change as Mehmedi comes on for the very impressive Zuber.  9:27PM 86 min Saville bursts into the box and goes down under the challenge of Xhaka. The crowd scream for a penalty, but it's an excellent tackle with the ball won cleanly. Even Gerry Armstrong accepts the decision!  9:25PM 85 min Still no shots on target from NI, who have really lacked quality in the final third tonight.  Northern Ireland vs Switzerland shots on goal 9:25PM 84 min Penalty shout for Northern Ireland as Magennis' header hits Rodriguez from close in, but it's his chest rather than his hand.  Switzerland make another change, as Frei comes on for Dzemaili.  9:22PM 81 min NI asking questions of their opponents with a flurry of long throws, but Switzerland are holding firm at the moment.  9:19PM 78 min Switzerland make their first change - Embolo on for Seferovic.  NI make their last change - Washington on for Lafferty.  9:14PM 74 min Lafferty wins another free-kick for his team, and this time it's within shooting distance. It's a few yards to the right, so well set up for Brunt's left foot - about 25 yards out. Brunt goes for power, but it's wide of the far post.   9:13PM 71 min Best chance of the night for NI, and unsurprisingly it came from a set play. Brunt curls in an absolute peach from the right, but Magennis nods a free header wide. Huge opportunity gone.  Michael O'Neill tries to get his team going  9:10PM 69 min The visitors are going for the kill, but Shaqiri can't get enough on his pull-back and McGovern gratefully gathers.  9:08PM 67 min  Switzerland stroking the ball around comfortably, as they've done for much of the game.  Possession: Northern Ireland vs Switzerland 9:06PM 65 min Another NI change - Corry Evans off for the Millwall midfielder George Saville.  9:05PM 64 min  Ward, whose been a ball of energy since coming on, is booked for a late challenge on Lichtsteiner.  9:03PM 62 min A very old-school chant of "The referee's a w*****" rings around Windsor Park.  9:02PM 60 min Corry Evans meanwhile picked up a booking for that 'handball', and he'll be suspended for the second leg. Gerry Armstrong is absolutely raging about the decision! It did look harsh to be fair.  Evans was so close to Shaqiri and I'm not sure it even hit his hand!  8:59PM GOAL! Northern Ireland 0 Switzerland 1 (Rodriguez 58') Rodriguez sweeps the ball into the bottom right-hand corner with his left foot, sending McGovern the wrong way.  Northern Ireland 0 - 1 Switzerland (Ricardo Rodríguez, 58 min) 8:58PM 57 min Penalty Switzerland! Shaqiri's volley is blocked by Corry Evans, and the referee deems it as handball. That looks very harsh given how close Evans was to Shaqiri when he made the block.  8:57PM 56 min Oh my, Switzerland are inches away from taking the lead. Dzemaili fizzes a low cross that is just in front of Seferovic, who would have had a tap in from a couple of yards out. Switzerland can't believe they haven't scored.  8:54PM 53 min Shaqiri has a go from about 30 yards, but I'm not exaggerating when I say it's closer to flying out of the stadium than hitting the back of the net. Switzerland running out of ideas?  8:53PM 52 min The rain is flying down now, and it's pathetic fallacy for Dallas, who looks gutted to be replaced by Nottingham Forest winger Jamie Ward.  8:51PM 49 min Dallas is still on, but he's really not moving freely. Come on pal, think it's time to go off.  8:48PM 46 min That is mighty close for Switzerland. Brunt misses Rodriguez's cross, and the ball falls to Shaqiri on the edge of the box. The Stoke man cuts inside and curls a beauty of a shot that just tickles the crossbar as it floats agonisingly too high. NI living extremely dangerously.  8:47PM 46 min We're back underway. Dallas is back out for NI despite that ankle knock.  8:41PM Deadlock Lots of Swiss probing, plenty of dogged Northern Irish defending, and a whole lot of nothing on the scoreboard. Lichtsteiner, Zakaria and Zuber have all impressed for Switzerland, while Jonny Evans has been a rock at the back for the hosts.   The main talking point has been whether Schar should have been sent off for clattering into Dallas. It's a call that really could have gone either way, and isn't that interesting to keep poring over. Northern Ireland vs Switzerland shots on goal 8:31PM Half-time Switzerland well on top, but it's goalless at the break.  8:30PM 45 min Very nearly for Switzerland, but Lichtsteiner slips as he tries to latch onto Seferovic's flick-on. The full-back was clean through if he'd kept his feet.  Possession: Northern Ireland vs Switzerland 8:27PM 43 min Shaqiri and Lichtsteiner are so dangerous in tandem down the Swiss right, but it's brilliant defensive work by Jonny Evans to block the right back's cross after the pair had linked up once again.  8:26PM 42 min Dallas is back on, but wincing in pain. He actually manages to get on the ball straight away and dig out a cross, but it's badly misplaced.  8:25PM 41 min Real shame for Northern Ireland. Dallas has not recovered from getting clobbered by Schar early on, and he's surely going to have to be replaced. Gerry Armstrong is insistent that it should have been a red card. Personally I think that would have been a touch harsh.  8:23PM 38 min NI try their luck with another long throw, and Lafferty feels he was pushed in the area by Schar as he tried to get on the end of it. Nothing really in that though.  8:20PM 35 min Zakaria in the centre of midfield is really having an excellent game and making his presence felt. He and Xhaka are running the show at the moment. Seferovic meanwhile heads Lichtsteiner's cross well off target.  8:16PM 31 min Switzerland counter at break-neck speed and eventually win a free-kick down the left. Xhaka whips it in, and it's a good one, but Evans manages to head it away.  Northern Ireland vs Switzerland shots on goal 8:14PM 29 min Some respite for Northern Ireland as they force Switzerland into a few clever headed clearances from some hoiked crosses into the box.  8:12PM 27 min Switzerland are putting together some lovely passing moves, but as yet they can't quite make a breakthrough. To give you an idea of how the game is panning out - Switzerland have made 162 passes to Northern Ireland's 53.  8:09PM 23 min Lichtsteiner once more comes flying forward down the right and he digs out a cross that Zuber can't quite get a good connection on. All Switzerland at the moment.  8:06PM 20 min We probably knew this already but for NI to qualify, Switzerland are going to have to be extremely wasteful over the two legs. The visitors look like creating chances pretty much every time they go forward.  8:04PM 18 min Yeah this is a really strong period for Switzerland. Lichtsteiner is again in lots of space down the right, and his low pinpoint cross is cleared by McAuley. Moments later Shaqiri picks out Seferovic with a beautiful diagonal, but the striker's hooked volley is well saved by McGovern. Backs to the wall stuff from Northern Ireland.  Attempt Saved: Northern Ireland 0 - 0 Switzerland (Haris Seferovic, 18 min) 8:01PM 17 min Switzerland offer a real threat down both flanks, and this time it's down the right where they make hay. Lichtsteiner bombs forward and clips in a lovely cross that just evades Zuber.  7:59PM 14 min NI look most dangerous from set pieces, and a high ball into the box is met well by McAuley before Lafferty has a volley deflected wide. The resulting corner is headed over by Jonny Evans from about 10 yards out. Not an easy chance.  7:58PM 12 min Zubrr does brilliantly down the left - he looks a real handful - and he picks out Xhaka around 25 yards from goal. Again though the Arsenal man is off target with a left-footed curler.  Miss: Northern Ireland 0 - 0 Switzerland (Granit Xhaka, 12 min) 7:55PM 9 min Switzerland enjoy a good period and create a couple of decent chances. First Dzemaili has a shot blocked inside the area before Xhaka fires over from the edge of the box. The pressure is really building for Switzerland here.  7:52PM 6 min Brunt hoists in the resulting free-kick, which is headed clear by Xhaka. That Dallas break incidentally came from a misplaced Xhaka pass.  7:50PM 5 min Schar picks up an early booking for a really bad tackle on Dallas. He went absolutely flying into the Northern Ireland forward as he broke clear down the left.  7:48PM 4 min Lafferty stabs a volley well wide from another Magennis cross as NI try and keep the pressure up in the early stages.  7:47PM 3 min The noise really is deafening, and the stadium is awash with green and white. Magennis does well down the right and whips a cross in, but it's well cleared by the Swiss defence. Real up and at 'em start from the hosts.  7:45PM Kick-off We're under way. A reminder of the teams - Michael O'Neill has opted for Kyle Lafferty up front ahead of Conor Washington.  Northern Ireland (4-3-3): McGovern; McLaughlin, McAuley, J Evans, Brunt; Norwood, C Evans, Davis; Magennis, Lafferty, Dallas. Switzerland (4-2-3-1): Sommer; Lichtsteiner, Akanji, Schar, Rodriguez; Xhaka, Zakaria; Shaqiri, Dzemaili, Zuber; Seferovic. 7:43PM What a noise The anthems are belted out, and Steven Davis is presented with a trophy to mark him winning his 100th NI cap. I feel I'm contractually obliged to describe this as a 'nice touch'.  7:39PM Fortress Windsor NI have won nine of their last 11 home matches, and the atmosphere at Windsor Park is absolutely electric. Teams are in the tunnel about to come out... 7:19PM On a tightrope Steven Davis, Jonny Evans, Corry Evans, Stuart Dallas, Oliver Norwood and Josh Magennis are all one yellow card away from a suspension that would rule them out of the second leg. 7:11PM What's been said Northern Ireland ended a 30-year wait for a finals appearance as they reached Euro 2016 and Josh Magennis, 27, wants to again experience the wave of emotion which greeted that achievement. "We didn't realise the magnitude of [qualifying for] France until we were here about to go and social media-wise and media-wise, it was just everywhere. "What it did for the country, not just ourselves, was basically unite people for about a month. It was absolutely massive." Northern Ireland captain Steven Davis, who is set to win his 100th cap, says his side must get their midfield balance right at Windsor Park. "From seeing some early analysis of them, they're clearly very comfortable in possession," said the Northern Ireland skipper. "It's going to be a difficult game. If you look at their results in qualifying, they were very unfortunate not to qualify automatically for the World Cup.  Steve Davis wins his 100th cap on Thursday night "The biggest thing for us is going to be getting that balance right, between pressing and cutting off the lines for them to play through. "If we can do that, we know we've got the quality to hurt them, and there are weaknesses we can exploit." 6:58PM Preamble Evening all, Can Northern Ireland take a big step tonight towards ending 31 years of hurt by qualifying for their first World Cup since 1986? Standing in their way are Switzerland, who have qualified for the previous three World Cups and are a little miffed to be in the playoffs having taken 27 points from their 10 group matches. In fact they're probably feeling a bit like someone who's just smashed a job interview only to be told "sorry, we had the absolutely perfect candidate come in after you".  But anyway, enough of my employment history, here the Swiss are at Windsor Park where they will be up against the formidable Northern Irish rearguard that kept seven clean sheets in 10 qualifying matches.  The West Brom pair of Gareth McAuley and Jonny Evans are the defensive bedrock of the side, while further forward Steven Davis will provide the dynamism and energy from midfield as he earns his 100th international cap.  Up front, Kyle Lafferty (one of those David Healy/Miroslav Klose types who is far better at international than club level) and Josh Magennis will look to unsettle the Swiss back four, which is without former Arsenal centre-back Johan Djourou. Current Arsenal midfielder Granit Xhaka will pull the strings for Switzerland tonight, while Xherdan Shaqiri will be tasked with providing the creative spark.  Juventus's Stephan Lichtsteiner and AC Milan's Ricardo Rodriguez will offer width and an attacking threat from the full-back positions.  My prediction for what it's worth is Northern Ireland 0 Switzerland 1.  6:51PM Teams are in  Northern Ireland:McGovern, McLaughlin, McAuley, J Evans, Brunt, Norwood , C Evans, Davis, Magennis, Lafferty, Dallas Switzerland: Sommer, Lichtsteiner, Schär, Akanji, Rodríguez, Xhaka, Zakaria, Shaqiri, Dzemaili, Zuber, Seferovic 6:06PM Preview - Fighting talk from Ward We'll be back at 6.45pm with the team news and then the build-up to tonight's World Cup play-off, but before then here's a wee preview from our pals at the Press Association.  Jamie Ward has cranked up the pressure on Switzerland by telling them Northern Ireland will thrive as the underdogs in their World Cup play-off. The Northern Irish missed out on being seeded for the draw last month by virtue of their world ranking, so knew they would face either the Swiss, Italy, Croatia or Denmark over two legs to determine their Russia fate. Nottingham Forest forward Ward, back in Michael O'Neill's fold for the first time since March having overcome a calf problem, had no qualms with that and has told Switzerland they have to handle the expectation. Vladimir Petkovic's team arrived in Belfast on Tuesday ahead of Thursday's first leg, and Ward said: "They've got to take their chances. Everyone is expecting them to win in the football world. Michael O'Neill has done a magnificent job as Northern Ireland manager Credit: Getty Images "They're obviously the seeded team, so the pressure's more on them than us. "We're always great as the underdogs, so I think it was a bit of a bonus us not being seeded. "If you're seeded, you get a little more pressure on yourself so we'll go into this game as underdogs again. Hopefully we can be worthy winners. "We'd love something heading over there. I think we're strong at home and you've seen that over the last few years. "If we play the way we can play, I don't see why we can't take a lead out there or at least a positive result." Should O'Neill's team find a way past the Swiss, they would end a 32-year exile from the World Cup finals and become the first Northern Irish side in history to make back-to-back major tournaments. With Wales and Scotland already out of the running, and the Republic of Ireland involved in their own play-off, Ward feels the Northern Irish are still not getting the recognition they warrant. "I think people see it as it's Northern Ireland and they've not done well for a long time, but on the other side they will go and buy players from the Republic squad," he added. "Premier League clubs are happy to do that. We're just as good as them, but it's obviously someone taking a risk or a chance on us and letting us prove we're worth playing at the next level."

Northern Ireland 0 Switzerland 1: Furious Jonny Evans says penalty decision was 'even worse than the Thierry Henry v Ireland handball'

The good news for Northern Ireland is they still have another 90 minutes to try to put things right but they will travel to Basel for the second leg of this World Cup play-off on Sunday nursing an acute and indisputable sense of injustice. Switzerland were the better team but they owe their slender lead largely thanks to an alarmingly incompetent piece of officiating from Romanian referee Ovidiu Hategan that Michael O’Neill called the worst he had ever seen in international football and saw the biggest night of football in Belfast for 36 years descend into acrimony. “Staggering” and “bewildering” were two of the other words the livid Northern Ireland manager used to describe Hategan’s decision to penalise Corry Evans for a perceived handball, when in fact the ball had hit his back, and award the Swiss a penalty that Ricardo Rodriguez converted. To compound matters, Evans picked up a booking in the process and will now be suspended for the second leg and Hategan’s decision to book rather than send off Switzerland defender Fabian Schar for an awful, two footed lunge on Stuart Dallas in the fifth minute merely added insult to injury. Dallas struggled on before being substituted early in the second half and could also now miss the return game. What is it about the Irish, handballs and World Cup play-offs? Few across the border in Ireland have forgotten about Thierry Henry’s unpunished handball in the lead up to the goal from William Gallas that controversially sent France to the 2010 World Cup finals. The ball hits Corry Evans' back - but a penalty was given Credit:  Getty Images Europe And if Hategan’s ineptitude is not to play a crucial role in taking Switzerland to Russia, Northern Ireland will have to make history. No team has ever lost the first leg of a World Cup play-off at home and retrieved the situation. They must also overcome a side that has not lost a competitive home match for over three years. "It was actually a worse decision (than Thierry Henry's handball) because the ref has made a call that was not there," Jonny Evans, Corry's brother, said Asked if he had seen a poorer decision from a referee, O’Neill said: “Well certainly not in any of the games that I have been involved in, particularly at this level, no. I am not in a position to say the referee is incompetent but it’s just staggering in this day and age when the stakes are so high that something like that is a game changer. “The ball clearly strikes Corry on the back and the referee has a clear view of the incident. I thought he had given an offside or something. I spent three hours in a video conference with Fifa the other week on video assistant referees (VAR) and certainly when you see what happened tonight you would be an advocate of it.” VAR will be trialled for the first time in an official game in the UK in England’s friendly against Germany at Wembley on Friday evening although a fat lot of good that does Northern Ireland. In truth, though, help and video replays should not have been required in this instance, and when Hategan did point to the spot, the only surprise greater than that on the faces of the players was that the assistant referee did not intervene and explain to Hategan the error of his ways. Rodriguez gets a pass away down the Switzerland left  Xherdan Shaqiri’s reaction after rifling a volley at Evans, who was standing only a few yards away, was telling in itself. There was no appeal for a penalty from the Stoke playmaker who, like most others, had seen Evans turn his back on the shot and watch it deflect off the upper back part of his shoulder and away. “It was disgraceful,” Evans said. “I clearly didn’t put my hand up. I know it him me on the back of the shoulder and I’m just absolutely gutted. He’s booked me which means I’m out of the second leg as well which is devastating.” Just as Northern Ireland cannot allow anger to ruin their focus in Basel, though – O’Neill talked about channeling that rage – so they will have to perform better than they did here. Northern Ireland vs Switzerland shots on goal Switzerland created the better chances and looked the superior side, although Northern Ireland’s reaction after the penalty was impressive. However, for large periods of the first half they were sucked deeper and deeper and rode their luck, as they did at times before Rodriguez scored. Haris Seferovic should have scored in the 17th minute. Shaqiri played a sublime raking pass on the turn over the head of Gareth McAuley and into the path of the Benfica striker, who stuck out a foot and poked the ball towards the far corner which Michael McGovern managed to get his fingertips to. Jonny Evans had earlier made a terrific block to deny Blerim Dzemaili, who later provided a cross that Seferovic narrowly failed to reach as it zipped across the face of the goal. Northern Ireland’s best hope of a goal looked to be from a set-piece but they wasted a series of good dead ball situations and Josh Magennis was guilty of sending a header wide from an inviting position from Chris Brunt’s free-kick. 9:36PM Full-time That's that. The full-time whistle goes and it finishes Northern Ireland 0 Switzerland 1.  Switzerland were much the better side, but their winning goal was never a penalty in a million years. The Swiss could also have been down to 10 men after a few minutes for Fabian Schar's reckless challenge on Stuart Dallas.  9:35PM 90+4 min Slightly comical moment here as Saville goes charging over to berate Lichtsteiner after the full-back goes down with cramp.  9:33PM 90+2 min Xhaka gives away a needless free-kick around 40 yards out. Brunt clips it in, but Switzerland hack the ball away.  9:31PM 90 min End to end stuff as Northern Ireland go flooding forward, which is leaving themselves open to the counter.  Four minutes of time added on... Northern Ireland vs Switzerland shots on goal 9:30PM 89 min Akanji was brought in to replace the injured Djourou tonight, and he's barely put a foot wrong. So quick and lots of clever interceptions.  9:28PM 87 min Final Swiss change as Mehmedi comes on for the very impressive Zuber.  9:27PM 86 min Saville bursts into the box and goes down under the challenge of Xhaka. The crowd scream for a penalty, but it's an excellent tackle with the ball won cleanly. Even Gerry Armstrong accepts the decision!  9:25PM 85 min Still no shots on target from NI, who have really lacked quality in the final third tonight.  Northern Ireland vs Switzerland shots on goal 9:25PM 84 min Penalty shout for Northern Ireland as Magennis' header hits Rodriguez from close in, but it's his chest rather than his hand.  Switzerland make another change, as Frei comes on for Dzemaili.  9:22PM 81 min NI asking questions of their opponents with a flurry of long throws, but Switzerland are holding firm at the moment.  9:19PM 78 min Switzerland make their first change - Embolo on for Seferovic.  NI make their last change - Washington on for Lafferty.  9:14PM 74 min Lafferty wins another free-kick for his team, and this time it's within shooting distance. It's a few yards to the right, so well set up for Brunt's left foot - about 25 yards out. Brunt goes for power, but it's wide of the far post.   9:13PM 71 min Best chance of the night for NI, and unsurprisingly it came from a set play. Brunt curls in an absolute peach from the right, but Magennis nods a free header wide. Huge opportunity gone.  Michael O'Neill tries to get his team going  9:10PM 69 min The visitors are going for the kill, but Shaqiri can't get enough on his pull-back and McGovern gratefully gathers.  9:08PM 67 min  Switzerland stroking the ball around comfortably, as they've done for much of the game.  Possession: Northern Ireland vs Switzerland 9:06PM 65 min Another NI change - Corry Evans off for the Millwall midfielder George Saville.  9:05PM 64 min  Ward, whose been a ball of energy since coming on, is booked for a late challenge on Lichtsteiner.  9:03PM 62 min A very old-school chant of "The referee's a w*****" rings around Windsor Park.  9:02PM 60 min Corry Evans meanwhile picked up a booking for that 'handball', and he'll be suspended for the second leg. Gerry Armstrong is absolutely raging about the decision! It did look harsh to be fair.  Evans was so close to Shaqiri and I'm not sure it even hit his hand!  8:59PM GOAL! Northern Ireland 0 Switzerland 1 (Rodriguez 58') Rodriguez sweeps the ball into the bottom right-hand corner with his left foot, sending McGovern the wrong way.  Northern Ireland 0 - 1 Switzerland (Ricardo Rodríguez, 58 min) 8:58PM 57 min Penalty Switzerland! Shaqiri's volley is blocked by Corry Evans, and the referee deems it as handball. That looks very harsh given how close Evans was to Shaqiri when he made the block.  8:57PM 56 min Oh my, Switzerland are inches away from taking the lead. Dzemaili fizzes a low cross that is just in front of Seferovic, who would have had a tap in from a couple of yards out. Switzerland can't believe they haven't scored.  8:54PM 53 min Shaqiri has a go from about 30 yards, but I'm not exaggerating when I say it's closer to flying out of the stadium than hitting the back of the net. Switzerland running out of ideas?  8:53PM 52 min The rain is flying down now, and it's pathetic fallacy for Dallas, who looks gutted to be replaced by Nottingham Forest winger Jamie Ward.  8:51PM 49 min Dallas is still on, but he's really not moving freely. Come on pal, think it's time to go off.  8:48PM 46 min That is mighty close for Switzerland. Brunt misses Rodriguez's cross, and the ball falls to Shaqiri on the edge of the box. The Stoke man cuts inside and curls a beauty of a shot that just tickles the crossbar as it floats agonisingly too high. NI living extremely dangerously.  8:47PM 46 min We're back underway. Dallas is back out for NI despite that ankle knock.  8:41PM Deadlock Lots of Swiss probing, plenty of dogged Northern Irish defending, and a whole lot of nothing on the scoreboard. Lichtsteiner, Zakaria and Zuber have all impressed for Switzerland, while Jonny Evans has been a rock at the back for the hosts.   The main talking point has been whether Schar should have been sent off for clattering into Dallas. It's a call that really could have gone either way, and isn't that interesting to keep poring over. Northern Ireland vs Switzerland shots on goal 8:31PM Half-time Switzerland well on top, but it's goalless at the break.  8:30PM 45 min Very nearly for Switzerland, but Lichtsteiner slips as he tries to latch onto Seferovic's flick-on. The full-back was clean through if he'd kept his feet.  Possession: Northern Ireland vs Switzerland 8:27PM 43 min Shaqiri and Lichtsteiner are so dangerous in tandem down the Swiss right, but it's brilliant defensive work by Jonny Evans to block the right back's cross after the pair had linked up once again.  8:26PM 42 min Dallas is back on, but wincing in pain. He actually manages to get on the ball straight away and dig out a cross, but it's badly misplaced.  8:25PM 41 min Real shame for Northern Ireland. Dallas has not recovered from getting clobbered by Schar early on, and he's surely going to have to be replaced. Gerry Armstrong is insistent that it should have been a red card. Personally I think that would have been a touch harsh.  8:23PM 38 min NI try their luck with another long throw, and Lafferty feels he was pushed in the area by Schar as he tried to get on the end of it. Nothing really in that though.  8:20PM 35 min Zakaria in the centre of midfield is really having an excellent game and making his presence felt. He and Xhaka are running the show at the moment. Seferovic meanwhile heads Lichtsteiner's cross well off target.  8:16PM 31 min Switzerland counter at break-neck speed and eventually win a free-kick down the left. Xhaka whips it in, and it's a good one, but Evans manages to head it away.  Northern Ireland vs Switzerland shots on goal 8:14PM 29 min Some respite for Northern Ireland as they force Switzerland into a few clever headed clearances from some hoiked crosses into the box.  8:12PM 27 min Switzerland are putting together some lovely passing moves, but as yet they can't quite make a breakthrough. To give you an idea of how the game is panning out - Switzerland have made 162 passes to Northern Ireland's 53.  8:09PM 23 min Lichtsteiner once more comes flying forward down the right and he digs out a cross that Zuber can't quite get a good connection on. All Switzerland at the moment.  8:06PM 20 min We probably knew this already but for NI to qualify, Switzerland are going to have to be extremely wasteful over the two legs. The visitors look like creating chances pretty much every time they go forward.  8:04PM 18 min Yeah this is a really strong period for Switzerland. Lichtsteiner is again in lots of space down the right, and his low pinpoint cross is cleared by McAuley. Moments later Shaqiri picks out Seferovic with a beautiful diagonal, but the striker's hooked volley is well saved by McGovern. Backs to the wall stuff from Northern Ireland.  Attempt Saved: Northern Ireland 0 - 0 Switzerland (Haris Seferovic, 18 min) 8:01PM 17 min Switzerland offer a real threat down both flanks, and this time it's down the right where they make hay. Lichtsteiner bombs forward and clips in a lovely cross that just evades Zuber.  7:59PM 14 min NI look most dangerous from set pieces, and a high ball into the box is met well by McAuley before Lafferty has a volley deflected wide. The resulting corner is headed over by Jonny Evans from about 10 yards out. Not an easy chance.  7:58PM 12 min Zubrr does brilliantly down the left - he looks a real handful - and he picks out Xhaka around 25 yards from goal. Again though the Arsenal man is off target with a left-footed curler.  Miss: Northern Ireland 0 - 0 Switzerland (Granit Xhaka, 12 min) 7:55PM 9 min Switzerland enjoy a good period and create a couple of decent chances. First Dzemaili has a shot blocked inside the area before Xhaka fires over from the edge of the box. The pressure is really building for Switzerland here.  7:52PM 6 min Brunt hoists in the resulting free-kick, which is headed clear by Xhaka. That Dallas break incidentally came from a misplaced Xhaka pass.  7:50PM 5 min Schar picks up an early booking for a really bad tackle on Dallas. He went absolutely flying into the Northern Ireland forward as he broke clear down the left.  7:48PM 4 min Lafferty stabs a volley well wide from another Magennis cross as NI try and keep the pressure up in the early stages.  7:47PM 3 min The noise really is deafening, and the stadium is awash with green and white. Magennis does well down the right and whips a cross in, but it's well cleared by the Swiss defence. Real up and at 'em start from the hosts.  7:45PM Kick-off We're under way. A reminder of the teams - Michael O'Neill has opted for Kyle Lafferty up front ahead of Conor Washington.  Northern Ireland (4-3-3): McGovern; McLaughlin, McAuley, J Evans, Brunt; Norwood, C Evans, Davis; Magennis, Lafferty, Dallas. Switzerland (4-2-3-1): Sommer; Lichtsteiner, Akanji, Schar, Rodriguez; Xhaka, Zakaria; Shaqiri, Dzemaili, Zuber; Seferovic. 7:43PM What a noise The anthems are belted out, and Steven Davis is presented with a trophy to mark him winning his 100th NI cap. I feel I'm contractually obliged to describe this as a 'nice touch'.  7:39PM Fortress Windsor NI have won nine of their last 11 home matches, and the atmosphere at Windsor Park is absolutely electric. Teams are in the tunnel about to come out... 7:19PM On a tightrope Steven Davis, Jonny Evans, Corry Evans, Stuart Dallas, Oliver Norwood and Josh Magennis are all one yellow card away from a suspension that would rule them out of the second leg. 7:11PM What's been said Northern Ireland ended a 30-year wait for a finals appearance as they reached Euro 2016 and Josh Magennis, 27, wants to again experience the wave of emotion which greeted that achievement. "We didn't realise the magnitude of [qualifying for] France until we were here about to go and social media-wise and media-wise, it was just everywhere. "What it did for the country, not just ourselves, was basically unite people for about a month. It was absolutely massive." Northern Ireland captain Steven Davis, who is set to win his 100th cap, says his side must get their midfield balance right at Windsor Park. "From seeing some early analysis of them, they're clearly very comfortable in possession," said the Northern Ireland skipper. "It's going to be a difficult game. If you look at their results in qualifying, they were very unfortunate not to qualify automatically for the World Cup.  Steve Davis wins his 100th cap on Thursday night "The biggest thing for us is going to be getting that balance right, between pressing and cutting off the lines for them to play through. "If we can do that, we know we've got the quality to hurt them, and there are weaknesses we can exploit." 6:58PM Preamble Evening all, Can Northern Ireland take a big step tonight towards ending 31 years of hurt by qualifying for their first World Cup since 1986? Standing in their way are Switzerland, who have qualified for the previous three World Cups and are a little miffed to be in the playoffs having taken 27 points from their 10 group matches. In fact they're probably feeling a bit like someone who's just smashed a job interview only to be told "sorry, we had the absolutely perfect candidate come in after you".  But anyway, enough of my employment history, here the Swiss are at Windsor Park where they will be up against the formidable Northern Irish rearguard that kept seven clean sheets in 10 qualifying matches.  The West Brom pair of Gareth McAuley and Jonny Evans are the defensive bedrock of the side, while further forward Steven Davis will provide the dynamism and energy from midfield as he earns his 100th international cap.  Up front, Kyle Lafferty (one of those David Healy/Miroslav Klose types who is far better at international than club level) and Josh Magennis will look to unsettle the Swiss back four, which is without former Arsenal centre-back Johan Djourou. Current Arsenal midfielder Granit Xhaka will pull the strings for Switzerland tonight, while Xherdan Shaqiri will be tasked with providing the creative spark.  Juventus's Stephan Lichtsteiner and AC Milan's Ricardo Rodriguez will offer width and an attacking threat from the full-back positions.  My prediction for what it's worth is Northern Ireland 0 Switzerland 1.  6:51PM Teams are in  Northern Ireland:McGovern, McLaughlin, McAuley, J Evans, Brunt, Norwood , C Evans, Davis, Magennis, Lafferty, Dallas Switzerland: Sommer, Lichtsteiner, Schär, Akanji, Rodríguez, Xhaka, Zakaria, Shaqiri, Dzemaili, Zuber, Seferovic 6:06PM Preview - Fighting talk from Ward We'll be back at 6.45pm with the team news and then the build-up to tonight's World Cup play-off, but before then here's a wee preview from our pals at the Press Association.  Jamie Ward has cranked up the pressure on Switzerland by telling them Northern Ireland will thrive as the underdogs in their World Cup play-off. The Northern Irish missed out on being seeded for the draw last month by virtue of their world ranking, so knew they would face either the Swiss, Italy, Croatia or Denmark over two legs to determine their Russia fate. Nottingham Forest forward Ward, back in Michael O'Neill's fold for the first time since March having overcome a calf problem, had no qualms with that and has told Switzerland they have to handle the expectation. Vladimir Petkovic's team arrived in Belfast on Tuesday ahead of Thursday's first leg, and Ward said: "They've got to take their chances. Everyone is expecting them to win in the football world. Michael O'Neill has done a magnificent job as Northern Ireland manager Credit: Getty Images "They're obviously the seeded team, so the pressure's more on them than us. "We're always great as the underdogs, so I think it was a bit of a bonus us not being seeded. "If you're seeded, you get a little more pressure on yourself so we'll go into this game as underdogs again. Hopefully we can be worthy winners. "We'd love something heading over there. I think we're strong at home and you've seen that over the last few years. "If we play the way we can play, I don't see why we can't take a lead out there or at least a positive result." Should O'Neill's team find a way past the Swiss, they would end a 32-year exile from the World Cup finals and become the first Northern Irish side in history to make back-to-back major tournaments. With Wales and Scotland already out of the running, and the Republic of Ireland involved in their own play-off, Ward feels the Northern Irish are still not getting the recognition they warrant. "I think people see it as it's Northern Ireland and they've not done well for a long time, but on the other side they will go and buy players from the Republic squad," he added. "Premier League clubs are happy to do that. We're just as good as them, but it's obviously someone taking a risk or a chance on us and letting us prove we're worth playing at the next level."

Northern Ireland 0 Switzerland 1: Furious Jonny Evans says penalty decision was 'even worse than the Thierry Henry v Ireland handball'

The good news for Northern Ireland is they still have another 90 minutes to try to put things right but they will travel to Basel for the second leg of this World Cup play-off on Sunday nursing an acute and indisputable sense of injustice. Switzerland were the better team but they owe their slender lead largely thanks to an alarmingly incompetent piece of officiating from Romanian referee Ovidiu Hategan that Michael O’Neill called the worst he had ever seen in international football and saw the biggest night of football in Belfast for 36 years descend into acrimony. “Staggering” and “bewildering” were two of the other words the livid Northern Ireland manager used to describe Hategan’s decision to penalise Corry Evans for a perceived handball, when in fact the ball had hit his back, and award the Swiss a penalty that Ricardo Rodriguez converted. To compound matters, Evans picked up a booking in the process and will now be suspended for the second leg and Hategan’s decision to book rather than send off Switzerland defender Fabian Schar for an awful, two footed lunge on Stuart Dallas in the fifth minute merely added insult to injury. Dallas struggled on before being substituted early in the second half and could also now miss the return game. What is it about the Irish, handballs and World Cup play-offs? Few across the border in Ireland have forgotten about Thierry Henry’s unpunished handball in the lead up to the goal from William Gallas that controversially sent France to the 2010 World Cup finals. The ball hits Corry Evans' back - but a penalty was given Credit:  Getty Images Europe And if Hategan’s ineptitude is not to play a crucial role in taking Switzerland to Russia, Northern Ireland will have to make history. No team has ever lost the first leg of a World Cup play-off at home and retrieved the situation. They must also overcome a side that has not lost a competitive home match for over three years. "It was actually a worse decision (than Thierry Henry's handball) because the ref has made a call that was not there," Jonny Evans, Corry's brother, said Asked if he had seen a poorer decision from a referee, O’Neill said: “Well certainly not in any of the games that I have been involved in, particularly at this level, no. I am not in a position to say the referee is incompetent but it’s just staggering in this day and age when the stakes are so high that something like that is a game changer. “The ball clearly strikes Corry on the back and the referee has a clear view of the incident. I thought he had given an offside or something. I spent three hours in a video conference with Fifa the other week on video assistant referees (VAR) and certainly when you see what happened tonight you would be an advocate of it.” VAR will be trialled for the first time in an official game in the UK in England’s friendly against Germany at Wembley on Friday evening although a fat lot of good that does Northern Ireland. In truth, though, help and video replays should not have been required in this instance, and when Hategan did point to the spot, the only surprise greater than that on the faces of the players was that the assistant referee did not intervene and explain to Hategan the error of his ways. Rodriguez gets a pass away down the Switzerland left  Xherdan Shaqiri’s reaction after rifling a volley at Evans, who was standing only a few yards away, was telling in itself. There was no appeal for a penalty from the Stoke playmaker who, like most others, had seen Evans turn his back on the shot and watch it deflect off the upper back part of his shoulder and away. “It was disgraceful,” Evans said. “I clearly didn’t put my hand up. I know it him me on the back of the shoulder and I’m just absolutely gutted. He’s booked me which means I’m out of the second leg as well which is devastating.” Just as Northern Ireland cannot allow anger to ruin their focus in Basel, though – O’Neill talked about channeling that rage – so they will have to perform better than they did here. Northern Ireland vs Switzerland shots on goal Switzerland created the better chances and looked the superior side, although Northern Ireland’s reaction after the penalty was impressive. However, for large periods of the first half they were sucked deeper and deeper and rode their luck, as they did at times before Rodriguez scored. Haris Seferovic should have scored in the 17th minute. Shaqiri played a sublime raking pass on the turn over the head of Gareth McAuley and into the path of the Benfica striker, who stuck out a foot and poked the ball towards the far corner which Michael McGovern managed to get his fingertips to. Jonny Evans had earlier made a terrific block to deny Blerim Dzemaili, who later provided a cross that Seferovic narrowly failed to reach as it zipped across the face of the goal. Northern Ireland’s best hope of a goal looked to be from a set-piece but they wasted a series of good dead ball situations and Josh Magennis was guilty of sending a header wide from an inviting position from Chris Brunt’s free-kick. 9:36PM Full-time That's that. The full-time whistle goes and it finishes Northern Ireland 0 Switzerland 1.  Switzerland were much the better side, but their winning goal was never a penalty in a million years. The Swiss could also have been down to 10 men after a few minutes for Fabian Schar's reckless challenge on Stuart Dallas.  9:35PM 90+4 min Slightly comical moment here as Saville goes charging over to berate Lichtsteiner after the full-back goes down with cramp.  9:33PM 90+2 min Xhaka gives away a needless free-kick around 40 yards out. Brunt clips it in, but Switzerland hack the ball away.  9:31PM 90 min End to end stuff as Northern Ireland go flooding forward, which is leaving themselves open to the counter.  Four minutes of time added on... Northern Ireland vs Switzerland shots on goal 9:30PM 89 min Akanji was brought in to replace the injured Djourou tonight, and he's barely put a foot wrong. So quick and lots of clever interceptions.  9:28PM 87 min Final Swiss change as Mehmedi comes on for the very impressive Zuber.  9:27PM 86 min Saville bursts into the box and goes down under the challenge of Xhaka. The crowd scream for a penalty, but it's an excellent tackle with the ball won cleanly. Even Gerry Armstrong accepts the decision!  9:25PM 85 min Still no shots on target from NI, who have really lacked quality in the final third tonight.  Northern Ireland vs Switzerland shots on goal 9:25PM 84 min Penalty shout for Northern Ireland as Magennis' header hits Rodriguez from close in, but it's his chest rather than his hand.  Switzerland make another change, as Frei comes on for Dzemaili.  9:22PM 81 min NI asking questions of their opponents with a flurry of long throws, but Switzerland are holding firm at the moment.  9:19PM 78 min Switzerland make their first change - Embolo on for Seferovic.  NI make their last change - Washington on for Lafferty.  9:14PM 74 min Lafferty wins another free-kick for his team, and this time it's within shooting distance. It's a few yards to the right, so well set up for Brunt's left foot - about 25 yards out. Brunt goes for power, but it's wide of the far post.   9:13PM 71 min Best chance of the night for NI, and unsurprisingly it came from a set play. Brunt curls in an absolute peach from the right, but Magennis nods a free header wide. Huge opportunity gone.  Michael O'Neill tries to get his team going  9:10PM 69 min The visitors are going for the kill, but Shaqiri can't get enough on his pull-back and McGovern gratefully gathers.  9:08PM 67 min  Switzerland stroking the ball around comfortably, as they've done for much of the game.  Possession: Northern Ireland vs Switzerland 9:06PM 65 min Another NI change - Corry Evans off for the Millwall midfielder George Saville.  9:05PM 64 min  Ward, whose been a ball of energy since coming on, is booked for a late challenge on Lichtsteiner.  9:03PM 62 min A very old-school chant of "The referee's a w*****" rings around Windsor Park.  9:02PM 60 min Corry Evans meanwhile picked up a booking for that 'handball', and he'll be suspended for the second leg. Gerry Armstrong is absolutely raging about the decision! It did look harsh to be fair.  Evans was so close to Shaqiri and I'm not sure it even hit his hand!  8:59PM GOAL! Northern Ireland 0 Switzerland 1 (Rodriguez 58') Rodriguez sweeps the ball into the bottom right-hand corner with his left foot, sending McGovern the wrong way.  Northern Ireland 0 - 1 Switzerland (Ricardo Rodríguez, 58 min) 8:58PM 57 min Penalty Switzerland! Shaqiri's volley is blocked by Corry Evans, and the referee deems it as handball. That looks very harsh given how close Evans was to Shaqiri when he made the block.  8:57PM 56 min Oh my, Switzerland are inches away from taking the lead. Dzemaili fizzes a low cross that is just in front of Seferovic, who would have had a tap in from a couple of yards out. Switzerland can't believe they haven't scored.  8:54PM 53 min Shaqiri has a go from about 30 yards, but I'm not exaggerating when I say it's closer to flying out of the stadium than hitting the back of the net. Switzerland running out of ideas?  8:53PM 52 min The rain is flying down now, and it's pathetic fallacy for Dallas, who looks gutted to be replaced by Nottingham Forest winger Jamie Ward.  8:51PM 49 min Dallas is still on, but he's really not moving freely. Come on pal, think it's time to go off.  8:48PM 46 min That is mighty close for Switzerland. Brunt misses Rodriguez's cross, and the ball falls to Shaqiri on the edge of the box. The Stoke man cuts inside and curls a beauty of a shot that just tickles the crossbar as it floats agonisingly too high. NI living extremely dangerously.  8:47PM 46 min We're back underway. Dallas is back out for NI despite that ankle knock.  8:41PM Deadlock Lots of Swiss probing, plenty of dogged Northern Irish defending, and a whole lot of nothing on the scoreboard. Lichtsteiner, Zakaria and Zuber have all impressed for Switzerland, while Jonny Evans has been a rock at the back for the hosts.   The main talking point has been whether Schar should have been sent off for clattering into Dallas. It's a call that really could have gone either way, and isn't that interesting to keep poring over. Northern Ireland vs Switzerland shots on goal 8:31PM Half-time Switzerland well on top, but it's goalless at the break.  8:30PM 45 min Very nearly for Switzerland, but Lichtsteiner slips as he tries to latch onto Seferovic's flick-on. The full-back was clean through if he'd kept his feet.  Possession: Northern Ireland vs Switzerland 8:27PM 43 min Shaqiri and Lichtsteiner are so dangerous in tandem down the Swiss right, but it's brilliant defensive work by Jonny Evans to block the right back's cross after the pair had linked up once again.  8:26PM 42 min Dallas is back on, but wincing in pain. He actually manages to get on the ball straight away and dig out a cross, but it's badly misplaced.  8:25PM 41 min Real shame for Northern Ireland. Dallas has not recovered from getting clobbered by Schar early on, and he's surely going to have to be replaced. Gerry Armstrong is insistent that it should have been a red card. Personally I think that would have been a touch harsh.  8:23PM 38 min NI try their luck with another long throw, and Lafferty feels he was pushed in the area by Schar as he tried to get on the end of it. Nothing really in that though.  8:20PM 35 min Zakaria in the centre of midfield is really having an excellent game and making his presence felt. He and Xhaka are running the show at the moment. Seferovic meanwhile heads Lichtsteiner's cross well off target.  8:16PM 31 min Switzerland counter at break-neck speed and eventually win a free-kick down the left. Xhaka whips it in, and it's a good one, but Evans manages to head it away.  Northern Ireland vs Switzerland shots on goal 8:14PM 29 min Some respite for Northern Ireland as they force Switzerland into a few clever headed clearances from some hoiked crosses into the box.  8:12PM 27 min Switzerland are putting together some lovely passing moves, but as yet they can't quite make a breakthrough. To give you an idea of how the game is panning out - Switzerland have made 162 passes to Northern Ireland's 53.  8:09PM 23 min Lichtsteiner once more comes flying forward down the right and he digs out a cross that Zuber can't quite get a good connection on. All Switzerland at the moment.  8:06PM 20 min We probably knew this already but for NI to qualify, Switzerland are going to have to be extremely wasteful over the two legs. The visitors look like creating chances pretty much every time they go forward.  8:04PM 18 min Yeah this is a really strong period for Switzerland. Lichtsteiner is again in lots of space down the right, and his low pinpoint cross is cleared by McAuley. Moments later Shaqiri picks out Seferovic with a beautiful diagonal, but the striker's hooked volley is well saved by McGovern. Backs to the wall stuff from Northern Ireland.  Attempt Saved: Northern Ireland 0 - 0 Switzerland (Haris Seferovic, 18 min) 8:01PM 17 min Switzerland offer a real threat down both flanks, and this time it's down the right where they make hay. Lichtsteiner bombs forward and clips in a lovely cross that just evades Zuber.  7:59PM 14 min NI look most dangerous from set pieces, and a high ball into the box is met well by McAuley before Lafferty has a volley deflected wide. The resulting corner is headed over by Jonny Evans from about 10 yards out. Not an easy chance.  7:58PM 12 min Zubrr does brilliantly down the left - he looks a real handful - and he picks out Xhaka around 25 yards from goal. Again though the Arsenal man is off target with a left-footed curler.  Miss: Northern Ireland 0 - 0 Switzerland (Granit Xhaka, 12 min) 7:55PM 9 min Switzerland enjoy a good period and create a couple of decent chances. First Dzemaili has a shot blocked inside the area before Xhaka fires over from the edge of the box. The pressure is really building for Switzerland here.  7:52PM 6 min Brunt hoists in the resulting free-kick, which is headed clear by Xhaka. That Dallas break incidentally came from a misplaced Xhaka pass.  7:50PM 5 min Schar picks up an early booking for a really bad tackle on Dallas. He went absolutely flying into the Northern Ireland forward as he broke clear down the left.  7:48PM 4 min Lafferty stabs a volley well wide from another Magennis cross as NI try and keep the pressure up in the early stages.  7:47PM 3 min The noise really is deafening, and the stadium is awash with green and white. Magennis does well down the right and whips a cross in, but it's well cleared by the Swiss defence. Real up and at 'em start from the hosts.  7:45PM Kick-off We're under way. A reminder of the teams - Michael O'Neill has opted for Kyle Lafferty up front ahead of Conor Washington.  Northern Ireland (4-3-3): McGovern; McLaughlin, McAuley, J Evans, Brunt; Norwood, C Evans, Davis; Magennis, Lafferty, Dallas. Switzerland (4-2-3-1): Sommer; Lichtsteiner, Akanji, Schar, Rodriguez; Xhaka, Zakaria; Shaqiri, Dzemaili, Zuber; Seferovic. 7:43PM What a noise The anthems are belted out, and Steven Davis is presented with a trophy to mark him winning his 100th NI cap. I feel I'm contractually obliged to describe this as a 'nice touch'.  7:39PM Fortress Windsor NI have won nine of their last 11 home matches, and the atmosphere at Windsor Park is absolutely electric. Teams are in the tunnel about to come out... 7:19PM On a tightrope Steven Davis, Jonny Evans, Corry Evans, Stuart Dallas, Oliver Norwood and Josh Magennis are all one yellow card away from a suspension that would rule them out of the second leg. 7:11PM What's been said Northern Ireland ended a 30-year wait for a finals appearance as they reached Euro 2016 and Josh Magennis, 27, wants to again experience the wave of emotion which greeted that achievement. "We didn't realise the magnitude of [qualifying for] France until we were here about to go and social media-wise and media-wise, it was just everywhere. "What it did for the country, not just ourselves, was basically unite people for about a month. It was absolutely massive." Northern Ireland captain Steven Davis, who is set to win his 100th cap, says his side must get their midfield balance right at Windsor Park. "From seeing some early analysis of them, they're clearly very comfortable in possession," said the Northern Ireland skipper. "It's going to be a difficult game. If you look at their results in qualifying, they were very unfortunate not to qualify automatically for the World Cup.  Steve Davis wins his 100th cap on Thursday night "The biggest thing for us is going to be getting that balance right, between pressing and cutting off the lines for them to play through. "If we can do that, we know we've got the quality to hurt them, and there are weaknesses we can exploit." 6:58PM Preamble Evening all, Can Northern Ireland take a big step tonight towards ending 31 years of hurt by qualifying for their first World Cup since 1986? Standing in their way are Switzerland, who have qualified for the previous three World Cups and are a little miffed to be in the playoffs having taken 27 points from their 10 group matches. In fact they're probably feeling a bit like someone who's just smashed a job interview only to be told "sorry, we had the absolutely perfect candidate come in after you".  But anyway, enough of my employment history, here the Swiss are at Windsor Park where they will be up against the formidable Northern Irish rearguard that kept seven clean sheets in 10 qualifying matches.  The West Brom pair of Gareth McAuley and Jonny Evans are the defensive bedrock of the side, while further forward Steven Davis will provide the dynamism and energy from midfield as he earns his 100th international cap.  Up front, Kyle Lafferty (one of those David Healy/Miroslav Klose types who is far better at international than club level) and Josh Magennis will look to unsettle the Swiss back four, which is without former Arsenal centre-back Johan Djourou. Current Arsenal midfielder Granit Xhaka will pull the strings for Switzerland tonight, while Xherdan Shaqiri will be tasked with providing the creative spark.  Juventus's Stephan Lichtsteiner and AC Milan's Ricardo Rodriguez will offer width and an attacking threat from the full-back positions.  My prediction for what it's worth is Northern Ireland 0 Switzerland 1.  6:51PM Teams are in  Northern Ireland:McGovern, McLaughlin, McAuley, J Evans, Brunt, Norwood , C Evans, Davis, Magennis, Lafferty, Dallas Switzerland: Sommer, Lichtsteiner, Schär, Akanji, Rodríguez, Xhaka, Zakaria, Shaqiri, Dzemaili, Zuber, Seferovic 6:06PM Preview - Fighting talk from Ward We'll be back at 6.45pm with the team news and then the build-up to tonight's World Cup play-off, but before then here's a wee preview from our pals at the Press Association.  Jamie Ward has cranked up the pressure on Switzerland by telling them Northern Ireland will thrive as the underdogs in their World Cup play-off. The Northern Irish missed out on being seeded for the draw last month by virtue of their world ranking, so knew they would face either the Swiss, Italy, Croatia or Denmark over two legs to determine their Russia fate. Nottingham Forest forward Ward, back in Michael O'Neill's fold for the first time since March having overcome a calf problem, had no qualms with that and has told Switzerland they have to handle the expectation. Vladimir Petkovic's team arrived in Belfast on Tuesday ahead of Thursday's first leg, and Ward said: "They've got to take their chances. Everyone is expecting them to win in the football world. Michael O'Neill has done a magnificent job as Northern Ireland manager Credit: Getty Images "They're obviously the seeded team, so the pressure's more on them than us. "We're always great as the underdogs, so I think it was a bit of a bonus us not being seeded. "If you're seeded, you get a little more pressure on yourself so we'll go into this game as underdogs again. Hopefully we can be worthy winners. "We'd love something heading over there. I think we're strong at home and you've seen that over the last few years. "If we play the way we can play, I don't see why we can't take a lead out there or at least a positive result." Should O'Neill's team find a way past the Swiss, they would end a 32-year exile from the World Cup finals and become the first Northern Irish side in history to make back-to-back major tournaments. With Wales and Scotland already out of the running, and the Republic of Ireland involved in their own play-off, Ward feels the Northern Irish are still not getting the recognition they warrant. "I think people see it as it's Northern Ireland and they've not done well for a long time, but on the other side they will go and buy players from the Republic squad," he added. "Premier League clubs are happy to do that. We're just as good as them, but it's obviously someone taking a risk or a chance on us and letting us prove we're worth playing at the next level."

Northern Ireland 0 Switzerland 1: Furious Jonny Evans says penalty decision was 'even worse than the Thierry Henry v Ireland handball'

The good news for Northern Ireland is they still have another 90 minutes to try to put things right but they will travel to Basel for the second leg of this World Cup play-off on Sunday nursing an acute and indisputable sense of injustice. Switzerland were the better team but they owe their slender lead largely thanks to an alarmingly incompetent piece of officiating from Romanian referee Ovidiu Hategan that Michael O’Neill called the worst he had ever seen in international football and saw the biggest night of football in Belfast for 36 years descend into acrimony. “Staggering” and “bewildering” were two of the other words the livid Northern Ireland manager used to describe Hategan’s decision to penalise Corry Evans for a perceived handball, when in fact the ball had hit his back, and award the Swiss a penalty that Ricardo Rodriguez converted. To compound matters, Evans picked up a booking in the process and will now be suspended for the second leg and Hategan’s decision to book rather than send off Switzerland defender Fabian Schar for an awful, two footed lunge on Stuart Dallas in the fifth minute merely added insult to injury. Dallas struggled on before being substituted early in the second half and could also now miss the return game. What is it about the Irish, handballs and World Cup play-offs? Few across the border in Ireland have forgotten about Thierry Henry’s unpunished handball in the lead up to the goal from William Gallas that controversially sent France to the 2010 World Cup finals. The ball hits Corry Evans' back - but a penalty was given Credit:  Getty Images Europe And if Hategan’s ineptitude is not to play a crucial role in taking Switzerland to Russia, Northern Ireland will have to make history. No team has ever lost the first leg of a World Cup play-off at home and retrieved the situation. They must also overcome a side that has not lost a competitive home match for over three years. "It was actually a worse decision (than Thierry Henry's handball) because the ref has made a call that was not there," Jonny Evans, Corry's brother, said Asked if he had seen a poorer decision from a referee, O’Neill said: “Well certainly not in any of the games that I have been involved in, particularly at this level, no. I am not in a position to say the referee is incompetent but it’s just staggering in this day and age when the stakes are so high that something like that is a game changer. “The ball clearly strikes Corry on the back and the referee has a clear view of the incident. I thought he had given an offside or something. I spent three hours in a video conference with Fifa the other week on video assistant referees (VAR) and certainly when you see what happened tonight you would be an advocate of it.” VAR will be trialled for the first time in an official game in the UK in England’s friendly against Germany at Wembley on Friday evening although a fat lot of good that does Northern Ireland. In truth, though, help and video replays should not have been required in this instance, and when Hategan did point to the spot, the only surprise greater than that on the faces of the players was that the assistant referee did not intervene and explain to Hategan the error of his ways. Rodriguez gets a pass away down the Switzerland left  Xherdan Shaqiri’s reaction after rifling a volley at Evans, who was standing only a few yards away, was telling in itself. There was no appeal for a penalty from the Stoke playmaker who, like most others, had seen Evans turn his back on the shot and watch it deflect off the upper back part of his shoulder and away. “It was disgraceful,” Evans said. “I clearly didn’t put my hand up. I know it him me on the back of the shoulder and I’m just absolutely gutted. He’s booked me which means I’m out of the second leg as well which is devastating.” Just as Northern Ireland cannot allow anger to ruin their focus in Basel, though – O’Neill talked about channeling that rage – so they will have to perform better than they did here. Northern Ireland vs Switzerland shots on goal Switzerland created the better chances and looked the superior side, although Northern Ireland’s reaction after the penalty was impressive. However, for large periods of the first half they were sucked deeper and deeper and rode their luck, as they did at times before Rodriguez scored. Haris Seferovic should have scored in the 17th minute. Shaqiri played a sublime raking pass on the turn over the head of Gareth McAuley and into the path of the Benfica striker, who stuck out a foot and poked the ball towards the far corner which Michael McGovern managed to get his fingertips to. Jonny Evans had earlier made a terrific block to deny Blerim Dzemaili, who later provided a cross that Seferovic narrowly failed to reach as it zipped across the face of the goal. Northern Ireland’s best hope of a goal looked to be from a set-piece but they wasted a series of good dead ball situations and Josh Magennis was guilty of sending a header wide from an inviting position from Chris Brunt’s free-kick. 9:36PM Full-time That's that. The full-time whistle goes and it finishes Northern Ireland 0 Switzerland 1.  Switzerland were much the better side, but their winning goal was never a penalty in a million years. The Swiss could also have been down to 10 men after a few minutes for Fabian Schar's reckless challenge on Stuart Dallas.  9:35PM 90+4 min Slightly comical moment here as Saville goes charging over to berate Lichtsteiner after the full-back goes down with cramp.  9:33PM 90+2 min Xhaka gives away a needless free-kick around 40 yards out. Brunt clips it in, but Switzerland hack the ball away.  9:31PM 90 min End to end stuff as Northern Ireland go flooding forward, which is leaving themselves open to the counter.  Four minutes of time added on... Northern Ireland vs Switzerland shots on goal 9:30PM 89 min Akanji was brought in to replace the injured Djourou tonight, and he's barely put a foot wrong. So quick and lots of clever interceptions.  9:28PM 87 min Final Swiss change as Mehmedi comes on for the very impressive Zuber.  9:27PM 86 min Saville bursts into the box and goes down under the challenge of Xhaka. The crowd scream for a penalty, but it's an excellent tackle with the ball won cleanly. Even Gerry Armstrong accepts the decision!  9:25PM 85 min Still no shots on target from NI, who have really lacked quality in the final third tonight.  Northern Ireland vs Switzerland shots on goal 9:25PM 84 min Penalty shout for Northern Ireland as Magennis' header hits Rodriguez from close in, but it's his chest rather than his hand.  Switzerland make another change, as Frei comes on for Dzemaili.  9:22PM 81 min NI asking questions of their opponents with a flurry of long throws, but Switzerland are holding firm at the moment.  9:19PM 78 min Switzerland make their first change - Embolo on for Seferovic.  NI make their last change - Washington on for Lafferty.  9:14PM 74 min Lafferty wins another free-kick for his team, and this time it's within shooting distance. It's a few yards to the right, so well set up for Brunt's left foot - about 25 yards out. Brunt goes for power, but it's wide of the far post.   9:13PM 71 min Best chance of the night for NI, and unsurprisingly it came from a set play. Brunt curls in an absolute peach from the right, but Magennis nods a free header wide. Huge opportunity gone.  Michael O'Neill tries to get his team going  9:10PM 69 min The visitors are going for the kill, but Shaqiri can't get enough on his pull-back and McGovern gratefully gathers.  9:08PM 67 min  Switzerland stroking the ball around comfortably, as they've done for much of the game.  Possession: Northern Ireland vs Switzerland 9:06PM 65 min Another NI change - Corry Evans off for the Millwall midfielder George Saville.  9:05PM 64 min  Ward, whose been a ball of energy since coming on, is booked for a late challenge on Lichtsteiner.  9:03PM 62 min A very old-school chant of "The referee's a w*****" rings around Windsor Park.  9:02PM 60 min Corry Evans meanwhile picked up a booking for that 'handball', and he'll be suspended for the second leg. Gerry Armstrong is absolutely raging about the decision! It did look harsh to be fair.  Evans was so close to Shaqiri and I'm not sure it even hit his hand!  8:59PM GOAL! Northern Ireland 0 Switzerland 1 (Rodriguez 58') Rodriguez sweeps the ball into the bottom right-hand corner with his left foot, sending McGovern the wrong way.  Northern Ireland 0 - 1 Switzerland (Ricardo Rodríguez, 58 min) 8:58PM 57 min Penalty Switzerland! Shaqiri's volley is blocked by Corry Evans, and the referee deems it as handball. That looks very harsh given how close Evans was to Shaqiri when he made the block.  8:57PM 56 min Oh my, Switzerland are inches away from taking the lead. Dzemaili fizzes a low cross that is just in front of Seferovic, who would have had a tap in from a couple of yards out. Switzerland can't believe they haven't scored.  8:54PM 53 min Shaqiri has a go from about 30 yards, but I'm not exaggerating when I say it's closer to flying out of the stadium than hitting the back of the net. Switzerland running out of ideas?  8:53PM 52 min The rain is flying down now, and it's pathetic fallacy for Dallas, who looks gutted to be replaced by Nottingham Forest winger Jamie Ward.  8:51PM 49 min Dallas is still on, but he's really not moving freely. Come on pal, think it's time to go off.  8:48PM 46 min That is mighty close for Switzerland. Brunt misses Rodriguez's cross, and the ball falls to Shaqiri on the edge of the box. The Stoke man cuts inside and curls a beauty of a shot that just tickles the crossbar as it floats agonisingly too high. NI living extremely dangerously.  8:47PM 46 min We're back underway. Dallas is back out for NI despite that ankle knock.  8:41PM Deadlock Lots of Swiss probing, plenty of dogged Northern Irish defending, and a whole lot of nothing on the scoreboard. Lichtsteiner, Zakaria and Zuber have all impressed for Switzerland, while Jonny Evans has been a rock at the back for the hosts.   The main talking point has been whether Schar should have been sent off for clattering into Dallas. It's a call that really could have gone either way, and isn't that interesting to keep poring over. Northern Ireland vs Switzerland shots on goal 8:31PM Half-time Switzerland well on top, but it's goalless at the break.  8:30PM 45 min Very nearly for Switzerland, but Lichtsteiner slips as he tries to latch onto Seferovic's flick-on. The full-back was clean through if he'd kept his feet.  Possession: Northern Ireland vs Switzerland 8:27PM 43 min Shaqiri and Lichtsteiner are so dangerous in tandem down the Swiss right, but it's brilliant defensive work by Jonny Evans to block the right back's cross after the pair had linked up once again.  8:26PM 42 min Dallas is back on, but wincing in pain. He actually manages to get on the ball straight away and dig out a cross, but it's badly misplaced.  8:25PM 41 min Real shame for Northern Ireland. Dallas has not recovered from getting clobbered by Schar early on, and he's surely going to have to be replaced. Gerry Armstrong is insistent that it should have been a red card. Personally I think that would have been a touch harsh.  8:23PM 38 min NI try their luck with another long throw, and Lafferty feels he was pushed in the area by Schar as he tried to get on the end of it. Nothing really in that though.  8:20PM 35 min Zakaria in the centre of midfield is really having an excellent game and making his presence felt. He and Xhaka are running the show at the moment. Seferovic meanwhile heads Lichtsteiner's cross well off target.  8:16PM 31 min Switzerland counter at break-neck speed and eventually win a free-kick down the left. Xhaka whips it in, and it's a good one, but Evans manages to head it away.  Northern Ireland vs Switzerland shots on goal 8:14PM 29 min Some respite for Northern Ireland as they force Switzerland into a few clever headed clearances from some hoiked crosses into the box.  8:12PM 27 min Switzerland are putting together some lovely passing moves, but as yet they can't quite make a breakthrough. To give you an idea of how the game is panning out - Switzerland have made 162 passes to Northern Ireland's 53.  8:09PM 23 min Lichtsteiner once more comes flying forward down the right and he digs out a cross that Zuber can't quite get a good connection on. All Switzerland at the moment.  8:06PM 20 min We probably knew this already but for NI to qualify, Switzerland are going to have to be extremely wasteful over the two legs. The visitors look like creating chances pretty much every time they go forward.  8:04PM 18 min Yeah this is a really strong period for Switzerland. Lichtsteiner is again in lots of space down the right, and his low pinpoint cross is cleared by McAuley. Moments later Shaqiri picks out Seferovic with a beautiful diagonal, but the striker's hooked volley is well saved by McGovern. Backs to the wall stuff from Northern Ireland.  Attempt Saved: Northern Ireland 0 - 0 Switzerland (Haris Seferovic, 18 min) 8:01PM 17 min Switzerland offer a real threat down both flanks, and this time it's down the right where they make hay. Lichtsteiner bombs forward and clips in a lovely cross that just evades Zuber.  7:59PM 14 min NI look most dangerous from set pieces, and a high ball into the box is met well by McAuley before Lafferty has a volley deflected wide. The resulting corner is headed over by Jonny Evans from about 10 yards out. Not an easy chance.  7:58PM 12 min Zubrr does brilliantly down the left - he looks a real handful - and he picks out Xhaka around 25 yards from goal. Again though the Arsenal man is off target with a left-footed curler.  Miss: Northern Ireland 0 - 0 Switzerland (Granit Xhaka, 12 min) 7:55PM 9 min Switzerland enjoy a good period and create a couple of decent chances. First Dzemaili has a shot blocked inside the area before Xhaka fires over from the edge of the box. The pressure is really building for Switzerland here.  7:52PM 6 min Brunt hoists in the resulting free-kick, which is headed clear by Xhaka. That Dallas break incidentally came from a misplaced Xhaka pass.  7:50PM 5 min Schar picks up an early booking for a really bad tackle on Dallas. He went absolutely flying into the Northern Ireland forward as he broke clear down the left.  7:48PM 4 min Lafferty stabs a volley well wide from another Magennis cross as NI try and keep the pressure up in the early stages.  7:47PM 3 min The noise really is deafening, and the stadium is awash with green and white. Magennis does well down the right and whips a cross in, but it's well cleared by the Swiss defence. Real up and at 'em start from the hosts.  7:45PM Kick-off We're under way. A reminder of the teams - Michael O'Neill has opted for Kyle Lafferty up front ahead of Conor Washington.  Northern Ireland (4-3-3): McGovern; McLaughlin, McAuley, J Evans, Brunt; Norwood, C Evans, Davis; Magennis, Lafferty, Dallas. Switzerland (4-2-3-1): Sommer; Lichtsteiner, Akanji, Schar, Rodriguez; Xhaka, Zakaria; Shaqiri, Dzemaili, Zuber; Seferovic. 7:43PM What a noise The anthems are belted out, and Steven Davis is presented with a trophy to mark him winning his 100th NI cap. I feel I'm contractually obliged to describe this as a 'nice touch'.  7:39PM Fortress Windsor NI have won nine of their last 11 home matches, and the atmosphere at Windsor Park is absolutely electric. Teams are in the tunnel about to come out... 7:19PM On a tightrope Steven Davis, Jonny Evans, Corry Evans, Stuart Dallas, Oliver Norwood and Josh Magennis are all one yellow card away from a suspension that would rule them out of the second leg. 7:11PM What's been said Northern Ireland ended a 30-year wait for a finals appearance as they reached Euro 2016 and Josh Magennis, 27, wants to again experience the wave of emotion which greeted that achievement. "We didn't realise the magnitude of [qualifying for] France until we were here about to go and social media-wise and media-wise, it was just everywhere. "What it did for the country, not just ourselves, was basically unite people for about a month. It was absolutely massive." Northern Ireland captain Steven Davis, who is set to win his 100th cap, says his side must get their midfield balance right at Windsor Park. "From seeing some early analysis of them, they're clearly very comfortable in possession," said the Northern Ireland skipper. "It's going to be a difficult game. If you look at their results in qualifying, they were very unfortunate not to qualify automatically for the World Cup.  Steve Davis wins his 100th cap on Thursday night "The biggest thing for us is going to be getting that balance right, between pressing and cutting off the lines for them to play through. "If we can do that, we know we've got the quality to hurt them, and there are weaknesses we can exploit." 6:58PM Preamble Evening all, Can Northern Ireland take a big step tonight towards ending 31 years of hurt by qualifying for their first World Cup since 1986? Standing in their way are Switzerland, who have qualified for the previous three World Cups and are a little miffed to be in the playoffs having taken 27 points from their 10 group matches. In fact they're probably feeling a bit like someone who's just smashed a job interview only to be told "sorry, we had the absolutely perfect candidate come in after you".  But anyway, enough of my employment history, here the Swiss are at Windsor Park where they will be up against the formidable Northern Irish rearguard that kept seven clean sheets in 10 qualifying matches.  The West Brom pair of Gareth McAuley and Jonny Evans are the defensive bedrock of the side, while further forward Steven Davis will provide the dynamism and energy from midfield as he earns his 100th international cap.  Up front, Kyle Lafferty (one of those David Healy/Miroslav Klose types who is far better at international than club level) and Josh Magennis will look to unsettle the Swiss back four, which is without former Arsenal centre-back Johan Djourou. Current Arsenal midfielder Granit Xhaka will pull the strings for Switzerland tonight, while Xherdan Shaqiri will be tasked with providing the creative spark.  Juventus's Stephan Lichtsteiner and AC Milan's Ricardo Rodriguez will offer width and an attacking threat from the full-back positions.  My prediction for what it's worth is Northern Ireland 0 Switzerland 1.  6:51PM Teams are in  Northern Ireland:McGovern, McLaughlin, McAuley, J Evans, Brunt, Norwood , C Evans, Davis, Magennis, Lafferty, Dallas Switzerland: Sommer, Lichtsteiner, Schär, Akanji, Rodríguez, Xhaka, Zakaria, Shaqiri, Dzemaili, Zuber, Seferovic 6:06PM Preview - Fighting talk from Ward We'll be back at 6.45pm with the team news and then the build-up to tonight's World Cup play-off, but before then here's a wee preview from our pals at the Press Association.  Jamie Ward has cranked up the pressure on Switzerland by telling them Northern Ireland will thrive as the underdogs in their World Cup play-off. The Northern Irish missed out on being seeded for the draw last month by virtue of their world ranking, so knew they would face either the Swiss, Italy, Croatia or Denmark over two legs to determine their Russia fate. Nottingham Forest forward Ward, back in Michael O'Neill's fold for the first time since March having overcome a calf problem, had no qualms with that and has told Switzerland they have to handle the expectation. Vladimir Petkovic's team arrived in Belfast on Tuesday ahead of Thursday's first leg, and Ward said: "They've got to take their chances. Everyone is expecting them to win in the football world. Michael O'Neill has done a magnificent job as Northern Ireland manager Credit: Getty Images "They're obviously the seeded team, so the pressure's more on them than us. "We're always great as the underdogs, so I think it was a bit of a bonus us not being seeded. "If you're seeded, you get a little more pressure on yourself so we'll go into this game as underdogs again. Hopefully we can be worthy winners. "We'd love something heading over there. I think we're strong at home and you've seen that over the last few years. "If we play the way we can play, I don't see why we can't take a lead out there or at least a positive result." Should O'Neill's team find a way past the Swiss, they would end a 32-year exile from the World Cup finals and become the first Northern Irish side in history to make back-to-back major tournaments. With Wales and Scotland already out of the running, and the Republic of Ireland involved in their own play-off, Ward feels the Northern Irish are still not getting the recognition they warrant. "I think people see it as it's Northern Ireland and they've not done well for a long time, but on the other side they will go and buy players from the Republic squad," he added. "Premier League clubs are happy to do that. We're just as good as them, but it's obviously someone taking a risk or a chance on us and letting us prove we're worth playing at the next level."

Northern Ireland 0 Switzerland 1: Furious Jonny Evans says penalty decision was 'even worse than the Thierry Henry v Ireland handball'

The good news for Northern Ireland is they still have another 90 minutes to try to put things right but they will travel to Basel for the second leg of this World Cup play-off on Sunday nursing an acute and indisputable sense of injustice. Switzerland were the better team but they owe their slender lead largely thanks to an alarmingly incompetent piece of officiating from Romanian referee Ovidiu Hategan that Michael O’Neill called the worst he had ever seen in international football and saw the biggest night of football in Belfast for 36 years descend into acrimony. “Staggering” and “bewildering” were two of the other words the livid Northern Ireland manager used to describe Hategan’s decision to penalise Corry Evans for a perceived handball, when in fact the ball had hit his back, and award the Swiss a penalty that Ricardo Rodriguez converted. To compound matters, Evans picked up a booking in the process and will now be suspended for the second leg and Hategan’s decision to book rather than send off Switzerland defender Fabian Schar for an awful, two footed lunge on Stuart Dallas in the fifth minute merely added insult to injury. Dallas struggled on before being substituted early in the second half and could also now miss the return game. What is it about the Irish, handballs and World Cup play-offs? Few across the border in Ireland have forgotten about Thierry Henry’s unpunished handball in the lead up to the goal from William Gallas that controversially sent France to the 2010 World Cup finals. The ball hits Corry Evans' back - but a penalty was given Credit:  Getty Images Europe And if Hategan’s ineptitude is not to play a crucial role in taking Switzerland to Russia, Northern Ireland will have to make history. No team has ever lost the first leg of a World Cup play-off at home and retrieved the situation. They must also overcome a side that has not lost a competitive home match for over three years. "It was actually a worse decision (than Thierry Henry's handball) because the ref has made a call that was not there," Jonny Evans, Corry's brother, said Asked if he had seen a poorer decision from a referee, O’Neill said: “Well certainly not in any of the games that I have been involved in, particularly at this level, no. I am not in a position to say the referee is incompetent but it’s just staggering in this day and age when the stakes are so high that something like that is a game changer. “The ball clearly strikes Corry on the back and the referee has a clear view of the incident. I thought he had given an offside or something. I spent three hours in a video conference with Fifa the other week on video assistant referees (VAR) and certainly when you see what happened tonight you would be an advocate of it.” VAR will be trialled for the first time in an official game in the UK in England’s friendly against Germany at Wembley on Friday evening although a fat lot of good that does Northern Ireland. In truth, though, help and video replays should not have been required in this instance, and when Hategan did point to the spot, the only surprise greater than that on the faces of the players was that the assistant referee did not intervene and explain to Hategan the error of his ways. Rodriguez gets a pass away down the Switzerland left  Xherdan Shaqiri’s reaction after rifling a volley at Evans, who was standing only a few yards away, was telling in itself. There was no appeal for a penalty from the Stoke playmaker who, like most others, had seen Evans turn his back on the shot and watch it deflect off the upper back part of his shoulder and away. “It was disgraceful,” Evans said. “I clearly didn’t put my hand up. I know it him me on the back of the shoulder and I’m just absolutely gutted. He’s booked me which means I’m out of the second leg as well which is devastating.” Just as Northern Ireland cannot allow anger to ruin their focus in Basel, though – O’Neill talked about channeling that rage – so they will have to perform better than they did here. Northern Ireland vs Switzerland shots on goal Switzerland created the better chances and looked the superior side, although Northern Ireland’s reaction after the penalty was impressive. However, for large periods of the first half they were sucked deeper and deeper and rode their luck, as they did at times before Rodriguez scored. Haris Seferovic should have scored in the 17th minute. Shaqiri played a sublime raking pass on the turn over the head of Gareth McAuley and into the path of the Benfica striker, who stuck out a foot and poked the ball towards the far corner which Michael McGovern managed to get his fingertips to. Jonny Evans had earlier made a terrific block to deny Blerim Dzemaili, who later provided a cross that Seferovic narrowly failed to reach as it zipped across the face of the goal. Northern Ireland’s best hope of a goal looked to be from a set-piece but they wasted a series of good dead ball situations and Josh Magennis was guilty of sending a header wide from an inviting position from Chris Brunt’s free-kick. 9:36PM Full-time That's that. The full-time whistle goes and it finishes Northern Ireland 0 Switzerland 1.  Switzerland were much the better side, but their winning goal was never a penalty in a million years. The Swiss could also have been down to 10 men after a few minutes for Fabian Schar's reckless challenge on Stuart Dallas.  9:35PM 90+4 min Slightly comical moment here as Saville goes charging over to berate Lichtsteiner after the full-back goes down with cramp.  9:33PM 90+2 min Xhaka gives away a needless free-kick around 40 yards out. Brunt clips it in, but Switzerland hack the ball away.  9:31PM 90 min End to end stuff as Northern Ireland go flooding forward, which is leaving themselves open to the counter.  Four minutes of time added on... Northern Ireland vs Switzerland shots on goal 9:30PM 89 min Akanji was brought in to replace the injured Djourou tonight, and he's barely put a foot wrong. So quick and lots of clever interceptions.  9:28PM 87 min Final Swiss change as Mehmedi comes on for the very impressive Zuber.  9:27PM 86 min Saville bursts into the box and goes down under the challenge of Xhaka. The crowd scream for a penalty, but it's an excellent tackle with the ball won cleanly. Even Gerry Armstrong accepts the decision!  9:25PM 85 min Still no shots on target from NI, who have really lacked quality in the final third tonight.  Northern Ireland vs Switzerland shots on goal 9:25PM 84 min Penalty shout for Northern Ireland as Magennis' header hits Rodriguez from close in, but it's his chest rather than his hand.  Switzerland make another change, as Frei comes on for Dzemaili.  9:22PM 81 min NI asking questions of their opponents with a flurry of long throws, but Switzerland are holding firm at the moment.  9:19PM 78 min Switzerland make their first change - Embolo on for Seferovic.  NI make their last change - Washington on for Lafferty.  9:14PM 74 min Lafferty wins another free-kick for his team, and this time it's within shooting distance. It's a few yards to the right, so well set up for Brunt's left foot - about 25 yards out. Brunt goes for power, but it's wide of the far post.   9:13PM 71 min Best chance of the night for NI, and unsurprisingly it came from a set play. Brunt curls in an absolute peach from the right, but Magennis nods a free header wide. Huge opportunity gone.  Michael O'Neill tries to get his team going  9:10PM 69 min The visitors are going for the kill, but Shaqiri can't get enough on his pull-back and McGovern gratefully gathers.  9:08PM 67 min  Switzerland stroking the ball around comfortably, as they've done for much of the game.  Possession: Northern Ireland vs Switzerland 9:06PM 65 min Another NI change - Corry Evans off for the Millwall midfielder George Saville.  9:05PM 64 min  Ward, whose been a ball of energy since coming on, is booked for a late challenge on Lichtsteiner.  9:03PM 62 min A very old-school chant of "The referee's a w*****" rings around Windsor Park.  9:02PM 60 min Corry Evans meanwhile picked up a booking for that 'handball', and he'll be suspended for the second leg. Gerry Armstrong is absolutely raging about the decision! It did look harsh to be fair.  Evans was so close to Shaqiri and I'm not sure it even hit his hand!  8:59PM GOAL! Northern Ireland 0 Switzerland 1 (Rodriguez 58') Rodriguez sweeps the ball into the bottom right-hand corner with his left foot, sending McGovern the wrong way.  Northern Ireland 0 - 1 Switzerland (Ricardo Rodríguez, 58 min) 8:58PM 57 min Penalty Switzerland! Shaqiri's volley is blocked by Corry Evans, and the referee deems it as handball. That looks very harsh given how close Evans was to Shaqiri when he made the block.  8:57PM 56 min Oh my, Switzerland are inches away from taking the lead. Dzemaili fizzes a low cross that is just in front of Seferovic, who would have had a tap in from a couple of yards out. Switzerland can't believe they haven't scored.  8:54PM 53 min Shaqiri has a go from about 30 yards, but I'm not exaggerating when I say it's closer to flying out of the stadium than hitting the back of the net. Switzerland running out of ideas?  8:53PM 52 min The rain is flying down now, and it's pathetic fallacy for Dallas, who looks gutted to be replaced by Nottingham Forest winger Jamie Ward.  8:51PM 49 min Dallas is still on, but he's really not moving freely. Come on pal, think it's time to go off.  8:48PM 46 min That is mighty close for Switzerland. Brunt misses Rodriguez's cross, and the ball falls to Shaqiri on the edge of the box. The Stoke man cuts inside and curls a beauty of a shot that just tickles the crossbar as it floats agonisingly too high. NI living extremely dangerously.  8:47PM 46 min We're back underway. Dallas is back out for NI despite that ankle knock.  8:41PM Deadlock Lots of Swiss probing, plenty of dogged Northern Irish defending, and a whole lot of nothing on the scoreboard. Lichtsteiner, Zakaria and Zuber have all impressed for Switzerland, while Jonny Evans has been a rock at the back for the hosts.   The main talking point has been whether Schar should have been sent off for clattering into Dallas. It's a call that really could have gone either way, and isn't that interesting to keep poring over. Northern Ireland vs Switzerland shots on goal 8:31PM Half-time Switzerland well on top, but it's goalless at the break.  8:30PM 45 min Very nearly for Switzerland, but Lichtsteiner slips as he tries to latch onto Seferovic's flick-on. The full-back was clean through if he'd kept his feet.  Possession: Northern Ireland vs Switzerland 8:27PM 43 min Shaqiri and Lichtsteiner are so dangerous in tandem down the Swiss right, but it's brilliant defensive work by Jonny Evans to block the right back's cross after the pair had linked up once again.  8:26PM 42 min Dallas is back on, but wincing in pain. He actually manages to get on the ball straight away and dig out a cross, but it's badly misplaced.  8:25PM 41 min Real shame for Northern Ireland. Dallas has not recovered from getting clobbered by Schar early on, and he's surely going to have to be replaced. Gerry Armstrong is insistent that it should have been a red card. Personally I think that would have been a touch harsh.  8:23PM 38 min NI try their luck with another long throw, and Lafferty feels he was pushed in the area by Schar as he tried to get on the end of it. Nothing really in that though.  8:20PM 35 min Zakaria in the centre of midfield is really having an excellent game and making his presence felt. He and Xhaka are running the show at the moment. Seferovic meanwhile heads Lichtsteiner's cross well off target.  8:16PM 31 min Switzerland counter at break-neck speed and eventually win a free-kick down the left. Xhaka whips it in, and it's a good one, but Evans manages to head it away.  Northern Ireland vs Switzerland shots on goal 8:14PM 29 min Some respite for Northern Ireland as they force Switzerland into a few clever headed clearances from some hoiked crosses into the box.  8:12PM 27 min Switzerland are putting together some lovely passing moves, but as yet they can't quite make a breakthrough. To give you an idea of how the game is panning out - Switzerland have made 162 passes to Northern Ireland's 53.  8:09PM 23 min Lichtsteiner once more comes flying forward down the right and he digs out a cross that Zuber can't quite get a good connection on. All Switzerland at the moment.  8:06PM 20 min We probably knew this already but for NI to qualify, Switzerland are going to have to be extremely wasteful over the two legs. The visitors look like creating chances pretty much every time they go forward.  8:04PM 18 min Yeah this is a really strong period for Switzerland. Lichtsteiner is again in lots of space down the right, and his low pinpoint cross is cleared by McAuley. Moments later Shaqiri picks out Seferovic with a beautiful diagonal, but the striker's hooked volley is well saved by McGovern. Backs to the wall stuff from Northern Ireland.  Attempt Saved: Northern Ireland 0 - 0 Switzerland (Haris Seferovic, 18 min) 8:01PM 17 min Switzerland offer a real threat down both flanks, and this time it's down the right where they make hay. Lichtsteiner bombs forward and clips in a lovely cross that just evades Zuber.  7:59PM 14 min NI look most dangerous from set pieces, and a high ball into the box is met well by McAuley before Lafferty has a volley deflected wide. The resulting corner is headed over by Jonny Evans from about 10 yards out. Not an easy chance.  7:58PM 12 min Zubrr does brilliantly down the left - he looks a real handful - and he picks out Xhaka around 25 yards from goal. Again though the Arsenal man is off target with a left-footed curler.  Miss: Northern Ireland 0 - 0 Switzerland (Granit Xhaka, 12 min) 7:55PM 9 min Switzerland enjoy a good period and create a couple of decent chances. First Dzemaili has a shot blocked inside the area before Xhaka fires over from the edge of the box. The pressure is really building for Switzerland here.  7:52PM 6 min Brunt hoists in the resulting free-kick, which is headed clear by Xhaka. That Dallas break incidentally came from a misplaced Xhaka pass.  7:50PM 5 min Schar picks up an early booking for a really bad tackle on Dallas. He went absolutely flying into the Northern Ireland forward as he broke clear down the left.  7:48PM 4 min Lafferty stabs a volley well wide from another Magennis cross as NI try and keep the pressure up in the early stages.  7:47PM 3 min The noise really is deafening, and the stadium is awash with green and white. Magennis does well down the right and whips a cross in, but it's well cleared by the Swiss defence. Real up and at 'em start from the hosts.  7:45PM Kick-off We're under way. A reminder of the teams - Michael O'Neill has opted for Kyle Lafferty up front ahead of Conor Washington.  Northern Ireland (4-3-3): McGovern; McLaughlin, McAuley, J Evans, Brunt; Norwood, C Evans, Davis; Magennis, Lafferty, Dallas. Switzerland (4-2-3-1): Sommer; Lichtsteiner, Akanji, Schar, Rodriguez; Xhaka, Zakaria; Shaqiri, Dzemaili, Zuber; Seferovic. 7:43PM What a noise The anthems are belted out, and Steven Davis is presented with a trophy to mark him winning his 100th NI cap. I feel I'm contractually obliged to describe this as a 'nice touch'.  7:39PM Fortress Windsor NI have won nine of their last 11 home matches, and the atmosphere at Windsor Park is absolutely electric. Teams are in the tunnel about to come out... 7:19PM On a tightrope Steven Davis, Jonny Evans, Corry Evans, Stuart Dallas, Oliver Norwood and Josh Magennis are all one yellow card away from a suspension that would rule them out of the second leg. 7:11PM What's been said Northern Ireland ended a 30-year wait for a finals appearance as they reached Euro 2016 and Josh Magennis, 27, wants to again experience the wave of emotion which greeted that achievement. "We didn't realise the magnitude of [qualifying for] France until we were here about to go and social media-wise and media-wise, it was just everywhere. "What it did for the country, not just ourselves, was basically unite people for about a month. It was absolutely massive." Northern Ireland captain Steven Davis, who is set to win his 100th cap, says his side must get their midfield balance right at Windsor Park. "From seeing some early analysis of them, they're clearly very comfortable in possession," said the Northern Ireland skipper. "It's going to be a difficult game. If you look at their results in qualifying, they were very unfortunate not to qualify automatically for the World Cup.  Steve Davis wins his 100th cap on Thursday night "The biggest thing for us is going to be getting that balance right, between pressing and cutting off the lines for them to play through. "If we can do that, we know we've got the quality to hurt them, and there are weaknesses we can exploit." 6:58PM Preamble Evening all, Can Northern Ireland take a big step tonight towards ending 31 years of hurt by qualifying for their first World Cup since 1986? Standing in their way are Switzerland, who have qualified for the previous three World Cups and are a little miffed to be in the playoffs having taken 27 points from their 10 group matches. In fact they're probably feeling a bit like someone who's just smashed a job interview only to be told "sorry, we had the absolutely perfect candidate come in after you".  But anyway, enough of my employment history, here the Swiss are at Windsor Park where they will be up against the formidable Northern Irish rearguard that kept seven clean sheets in 10 qualifying matches.  The West Brom pair of Gareth McAuley and Jonny Evans are the defensive bedrock of the side, while further forward Steven Davis will provide the dynamism and energy from midfield as he earns his 100th international cap.  Up front, Kyle Lafferty (one of those David Healy/Miroslav Klose types who is far better at international than club level) and Josh Magennis will look to unsettle the Swiss back four, which is without former Arsenal centre-back Johan Djourou. Current Arsenal midfielder Granit Xhaka will pull the strings for Switzerland tonight, while Xherdan Shaqiri will be tasked with providing the creative spark.  Juventus's Stephan Lichtsteiner and AC Milan's Ricardo Rodriguez will offer width and an attacking threat from the full-back positions.  My prediction for what it's worth is Northern Ireland 0 Switzerland 1.  6:51PM Teams are in  Northern Ireland:McGovern, McLaughlin, McAuley, J Evans, Brunt, Norwood , C Evans, Davis, Magennis, Lafferty, Dallas Switzerland: Sommer, Lichtsteiner, Schär, Akanji, Rodríguez, Xhaka, Zakaria, Shaqiri, Dzemaili, Zuber, Seferovic 6:06PM Preview - Fighting talk from Ward We'll be back at 6.45pm with the team news and then the build-up to tonight's World Cup play-off, but before then here's a wee preview from our pals at the Press Association.  Jamie Ward has cranked up the pressure on Switzerland by telling them Northern Ireland will thrive as the underdogs in their World Cup play-off. The Northern Irish missed out on being seeded for the draw last month by virtue of their world ranking, so knew they would face either the Swiss, Italy, Croatia or Denmark over two legs to determine their Russia fate. Nottingham Forest forward Ward, back in Michael O'Neill's fold for the first time since March having overcome a calf problem, had no qualms with that and has told Switzerland they have to handle the expectation. Vladimir Petkovic's team arrived in Belfast on Tuesday ahead of Thursday's first leg, and Ward said: "They've got to take their chances. Everyone is expecting them to win in the football world. Michael O'Neill has done a magnificent job as Northern Ireland manager Credit: Getty Images "They're obviously the seeded team, so the pressure's more on them than us. "We're always great as the underdogs, so I think it was a bit of a bonus us not being seeded. "If you're seeded, you get a little more pressure on yourself so we'll go into this game as underdogs again. Hopefully we can be worthy winners. "We'd love something heading over there. I think we're strong at home and you've seen that over the last few years. "If we play the way we can play, I don't see why we can't take a lead out there or at least a positive result." Should O'Neill's team find a way past the Swiss, they would end a 32-year exile from the World Cup finals and become the first Northern Irish side in history to make back-to-back major tournaments. With Wales and Scotland already out of the running, and the Republic of Ireland involved in their own play-off, Ward feels the Northern Irish are still not getting the recognition they warrant. "I think people see it as it's Northern Ireland and they've not done well for a long time, but on the other side they will go and buy players from the Republic squad," he added. "Premier League clubs are happy to do that. We're just as good as them, but it's obviously someone taking a risk or a chance on us and letting us prove we're worth playing at the next level."

Northern Ireland 0 Switzerland 1: Furious Jonny Evans says penalty decision was 'even worse than the Thierry Henry v Ireland handball'

The good news for Northern Ireland is they still have another 90 minutes to try to put things right but they will travel to Basel for the second leg of this World Cup play-off on Sunday nursing an acute and indisputable sense of injustice. Switzerland were the better team but they owe their slender lead largely thanks to an alarmingly incompetent piece of officiating from Romanian referee Ovidiu Hategan that Michael O’Neill called the worst he had ever seen in international football and saw the biggest night of football in Belfast for 36 years descend into acrimony. “Staggering” and “bewildering” were two of the other words the livid Northern Ireland manager used to describe Hategan’s decision to penalise Corry Evans for a perceived handball, when in fact the ball had hit his back, and award the Swiss a penalty that Ricardo Rodriguez converted. To compound matters, Evans picked up a booking in the process and will now be suspended for the second leg and Hategan’s decision to book rather than send off Switzerland defender Fabian Schar for an awful, two footed lunge on Stuart Dallas in the fifth minute merely added insult to injury. Dallas struggled on before being substituted early in the second half and could also now miss the return game. What is it about the Irish, handballs and World Cup play-offs? Few across the border in Ireland have forgotten about Thierry Henry’s unpunished handball in the lead up to the goal from William Gallas that controversially sent France to the 2010 World Cup finals. The ball hits Corry Evans' back - but a penalty was given Credit:  Getty Images Europe And if Hategan’s ineptitude is not to play a crucial role in taking Switzerland to Russia, Northern Ireland will have to make history. No team has ever lost the first leg of a World Cup play-off at home and retrieved the situation. They must also overcome a side that has not lost a competitive home match for over three years. "It was actually a worse decision (than Thierry Henry's handball) because the ref has made a call that was not there," Jonny Evans, Corry's brother, said Asked if he had seen a poorer decision from a referee, O’Neill said: “Well certainly not in any of the games that I have been involved in, particularly at this level, no. I am not in a position to say the referee is incompetent but it’s just staggering in this day and age when the stakes are so high that something like that is a game changer. “The ball clearly strikes Corry on the back and the referee has a clear view of the incident. I thought he had given an offside or something. I spent three hours in a video conference with Fifa the other week on video assistant referees (VAR) and certainly when you see what happened tonight you would be an advocate of it.” VAR will be trialled for the first time in an official game in the UK in England’s friendly against Germany at Wembley on Friday evening although a fat lot of good that does Northern Ireland. In truth, though, help and video replays should not have been required in this instance, and when Hategan did point to the spot, the only surprise greater than that on the faces of the players was that the assistant referee did not intervene and explain to Hategan the error of his ways. Rodriguez gets a pass away down the Switzerland left  Xherdan Shaqiri’s reaction after rifling a volley at Evans, who was standing only a few yards away, was telling in itself. There was no appeal for a penalty from the Stoke playmaker who, like most others, had seen Evans turn his back on the shot and watch it deflect off the upper back part of his shoulder and away. “It was disgraceful,” Evans said. “I clearly didn’t put my hand up. I know it him me on the back of the shoulder and I’m just absolutely gutted. He’s booked me which means I’m out of the second leg as well which is devastating.” Just as Northern Ireland cannot allow anger to ruin their focus in Basel, though – O’Neill talked about channeling that rage – so they will have to perform better than they did here. Northern Ireland vs Switzerland shots on goal Switzerland created the better chances and looked the superior side, although Northern Ireland’s reaction after the penalty was impressive. However, for large periods of the first half they were sucked deeper and deeper and rode their luck, as they did at times before Rodriguez scored. Haris Seferovic should have scored in the 17th minute. Shaqiri played a sublime raking pass on the turn over the head of Gareth McAuley and into the path of the Benfica striker, who stuck out a foot and poked the ball towards the far corner which Michael McGovern managed to get his fingertips to. Jonny Evans had earlier made a terrific block to deny Blerim Dzemaili, who later provided a cross that Seferovic narrowly failed to reach as it zipped across the face of the goal. Northern Ireland’s best hope of a goal looked to be from a set-piece but they wasted a series of good dead ball situations and Josh Magennis was guilty of sending a header wide from an inviting position from Chris Brunt’s free-kick. 9:36PM Full-time That's that. The full-time whistle goes and it finishes Northern Ireland 0 Switzerland 1.  Switzerland were much the better side, but their winning goal was never a penalty in a million years. The Swiss could also have been down to 10 men after a few minutes for Fabian Schar's reckless challenge on Stuart Dallas.  9:35PM 90+4 min Slightly comical moment here as Saville goes charging over to berate Lichtsteiner after the full-back goes down with cramp.  9:33PM 90+2 min Xhaka gives away a needless free-kick around 40 yards out. Brunt clips it in, but Switzerland hack the ball away.  9:31PM 90 min End to end stuff as Northern Ireland go flooding forward, which is leaving themselves open to the counter.  Four minutes of time added on... Northern Ireland vs Switzerland shots on goal 9:30PM 89 min Akanji was brought in to replace the injured Djourou tonight, and he's barely put a foot wrong. So quick and lots of clever interceptions.  9:28PM 87 min Final Swiss change as Mehmedi comes on for the very impressive Zuber.  9:27PM 86 min Saville bursts into the box and goes down under the challenge of Xhaka. The crowd scream for a penalty, but it's an excellent tackle with the ball won cleanly. Even Gerry Armstrong accepts the decision!  9:25PM 85 min Still no shots on target from NI, who have really lacked quality in the final third tonight.  Northern Ireland vs Switzerland shots on goal 9:25PM 84 min Penalty shout for Northern Ireland as Magennis' header hits Rodriguez from close in, but it's his chest rather than his hand.  Switzerland make another change, as Frei comes on for Dzemaili.  9:22PM 81 min NI asking questions of their opponents with a flurry of long throws, but Switzerland are holding firm at the moment.  9:19PM 78 min Switzerland make their first change - Embolo on for Seferovic.  NI make their last change - Washington on for Lafferty.  9:14PM 74 min Lafferty wins another free-kick for his team, and this time it's within shooting distance. It's a few yards to the right, so well set up for Brunt's left foot - about 25 yards out. Brunt goes for power, but it's wide of the far post.   9:13PM 71 min Best chance of the night for NI, and unsurprisingly it came from a set play. Brunt curls in an absolute peach from the right, but Magennis nods a free header wide. Huge opportunity gone.  Michael O'Neill tries to get his team going  9:10PM 69 min The visitors are going for the kill, but Shaqiri can't get enough on his pull-back and McGovern gratefully gathers.  9:08PM 67 min  Switzerland stroking the ball around comfortably, as they've done for much of the game.  Possession: Northern Ireland vs Switzerland 9:06PM 65 min Another NI change - Corry Evans off for the Millwall midfielder George Saville.  9:05PM 64 min  Ward, whose been a ball of energy since coming on, is booked for a late challenge on Lichtsteiner.  9:03PM 62 min A very old-school chant of "The referee's a w*****" rings around Windsor Park.  9:02PM 60 min Corry Evans meanwhile picked up a booking for that 'handball', and he'll be suspended for the second leg. Gerry Armstrong is absolutely raging about the decision! It did look harsh to be fair.  Evans was so close to Shaqiri and I'm not sure it even hit his hand!  8:59PM GOAL! Northern Ireland 0 Switzerland 1 (Rodriguez 58') Rodriguez sweeps the ball into the bottom right-hand corner with his left foot, sending McGovern the wrong way.  Northern Ireland 0 - 1 Switzerland (Ricardo Rodríguez, 58 min) 8:58PM 57 min Penalty Switzerland! Shaqiri's volley is blocked by Corry Evans, and the referee deems it as handball. That looks very harsh given how close Evans was to Shaqiri when he made the block.  8:57PM 56 min Oh my, Switzerland are inches away from taking the lead. Dzemaili fizzes a low cross that is just in front of Seferovic, who would have had a tap in from a couple of yards out. Switzerland can't believe they haven't scored.  8:54PM 53 min Shaqiri has a go from about 30 yards, but I'm not exaggerating when I say it's closer to flying out of the stadium than hitting the back of the net. Switzerland running out of ideas?  8:53PM 52 min The rain is flying down now, and it's pathetic fallacy for Dallas, who looks gutted to be replaced by Nottingham Forest winger Jamie Ward.  8:51PM 49 min Dallas is still on, but he's really not moving freely. Come on pal, think it's time to go off.  8:48PM 46 min That is mighty close for Switzerland. Brunt misses Rodriguez's cross, and the ball falls to Shaqiri on the edge of the box. The Stoke man cuts inside and curls a beauty of a shot that just tickles the crossbar as it floats agonisingly too high. NI living extremely dangerously.  8:47PM 46 min We're back underway. Dallas is back out for NI despite that ankle knock.  8:41PM Deadlock Lots of Swiss probing, plenty of dogged Northern Irish defending, and a whole lot of nothing on the scoreboard. Lichtsteiner, Zakaria and Zuber have all impressed for Switzerland, while Jonny Evans has been a rock at the back for the hosts.   The main talking point has been whether Schar should have been sent off for clattering into Dallas. It's a call that really could have gone either way, and isn't that interesting to keep poring over. Northern Ireland vs Switzerland shots on goal 8:31PM Half-time Switzerland well on top, but it's goalless at the break.  8:30PM 45 min Very nearly for Switzerland, but Lichtsteiner slips as he tries to latch onto Seferovic's flick-on. The full-back was clean through if he'd kept his feet.  Possession: Northern Ireland vs Switzerland 8:27PM 43 min Shaqiri and Lichtsteiner are so dangerous in tandem down the Swiss right, but it's brilliant defensive work by Jonny Evans to block the right back's cross after the pair had linked up once again.  8:26PM 42 min Dallas is back on, but wincing in pain. He actually manages to get on the ball straight away and dig out a cross, but it's badly misplaced.  8:25PM 41 min Real shame for Northern Ireland. Dallas has not recovered from getting clobbered by Schar early on, and he's surely going to have to be replaced. Gerry Armstrong is insistent that it should have been a red card. Personally I think that would have been a touch harsh.  8:23PM 38 min NI try their luck with another long throw, and Lafferty feels he was pushed in the area by Schar as he tried to get on the end of it. Nothing really in that though.  8:20PM 35 min Zakaria in the centre of midfield is really having an excellent game and making his presence felt. He and Xhaka are running the show at the moment. Seferovic meanwhile heads Lichtsteiner's cross well off target.  8:16PM 31 min Switzerland counter at break-neck speed and eventually win a free-kick down the left. Xhaka whips it in, and it's a good one, but Evans manages to head it away.  Northern Ireland vs Switzerland shots on goal 8:14PM 29 min Some respite for Northern Ireland as they force Switzerland into a few clever headed clearances from some hoiked crosses into the box.  8:12PM 27 min Switzerland are putting together some lovely passing moves, but as yet they can't quite make a breakthrough. To give you an idea of how the game is panning out - Switzerland have made 162 passes to Northern Ireland's 53.  8:09PM 23 min Lichtsteiner once more comes flying forward down the right and he digs out a cross that Zuber can't quite get a good connection on. All Switzerland at the moment.  8:06PM 20 min We probably knew this already but for NI to qualify, Switzerland are going to have to be extremely wasteful over the two legs. The visitors look like creating chances pretty much every time they go forward.  8:04PM 18 min Yeah this is a really strong period for Switzerland. Lichtsteiner is again in lots of space down the right, and his low pinpoint cross is cleared by McAuley. Moments later Shaqiri picks out Seferovic with a beautiful diagonal, but the striker's hooked volley is well saved by McGovern. Backs to the wall stuff from Northern Ireland.  Attempt Saved: Northern Ireland 0 - 0 Switzerland (Haris Seferovic, 18 min) 8:01PM 17 min Switzerland offer a real threat down both flanks, and this time it's down the right where they make hay. Lichtsteiner bombs forward and clips in a lovely cross that just evades Zuber.  7:59PM 14 min NI look most dangerous from set pieces, and a high ball into the box is met well by McAuley before Lafferty has a volley deflected wide. The resulting corner is headed over by Jonny Evans from about 10 yards out. Not an easy chance.  7:58PM 12 min Zubrr does brilliantly down the left - he looks a real handful - and he picks out Xhaka around 25 yards from goal. Again though the Arsenal man is off target with a left-footed curler.  Miss: Northern Ireland 0 - 0 Switzerland (Granit Xhaka, 12 min) 7:55PM 9 min Switzerland enjoy a good period and create a couple of decent chances. First Dzemaili has a shot blocked inside the area before Xhaka fires over from the edge of the box. The pressure is really building for Switzerland here.  7:52PM 6 min Brunt hoists in the resulting free-kick, which is headed clear by Xhaka. That Dallas break incidentally came from a misplaced Xhaka pass.  7:50PM 5 min Schar picks up an early booking for a really bad tackle on Dallas. He went absolutely flying into the Northern Ireland forward as he broke clear down the left.  7:48PM 4 min Lafferty stabs a volley well wide from another Magennis cross as NI try and keep the pressure up in the early stages.  7:47PM 3 min The noise really is deafening, and the stadium is awash with green and white. Magennis does well down the right and whips a cross in, but it's well cleared by the Swiss defence. Real up and at 'em start from the hosts.  7:45PM Kick-off We're under way. A reminder of the teams - Michael O'Neill has opted for Kyle Lafferty up front ahead of Conor Washington.  Northern Ireland (4-3-3): McGovern; McLaughlin, McAuley, J Evans, Brunt; Norwood, C Evans, Davis; Magennis, Lafferty, Dallas. Switzerland (4-2-3-1): Sommer; Lichtsteiner, Akanji, Schar, Rodriguez; Xhaka, Zakaria; Shaqiri, Dzemaili, Zuber; Seferovic. 7:43PM What a noise The anthems are belted out, and Steven Davis is presented with a trophy to mark him winning his 100th NI cap. I feel I'm contractually obliged to describe this as a 'nice touch'.  7:39PM Fortress Windsor NI have won nine of their last 11 home matches, and the atmosphere at Windsor Park is absolutely electric. Teams are in the tunnel about to come out... 7:19PM On a tightrope Steven Davis, Jonny Evans, Corry Evans, Stuart Dallas, Oliver Norwood and Josh Magennis are all one yellow card away from a suspension that would rule them out of the second leg. 7:11PM What's been said Northern Ireland ended a 30-year wait for a finals appearance as they reached Euro 2016 and Josh Magennis, 27, wants to again experience the wave of emotion which greeted that achievement. "We didn't realise the magnitude of [qualifying for] France until we were here about to go and social media-wise and media-wise, it was just everywhere. "What it did for the country, not just ourselves, was basically unite people for about a month. It was absolutely massive." Northern Ireland captain Steven Davis, who is set to win his 100th cap, says his side must get their midfield balance right at Windsor Park. "From seeing some early analysis of them, they're clearly very comfortable in possession," said the Northern Ireland skipper. "It's going to be a difficult game. If you look at their results in qualifying, they were very unfortunate not to qualify automatically for the World Cup.  Steve Davis wins his 100th cap on Thursday night "The biggest thing for us is going to be getting that balance right, between pressing and cutting off the lines for them to play through. "If we can do that, we know we've got the quality to hurt them, and there are weaknesses we can exploit." 6:58PM Preamble Evening all, Can Northern Ireland take a big step tonight towards ending 31 years of hurt by qualifying for their first World Cup since 1986? Standing in their way are Switzerland, who have qualified for the previous three World Cups and are a little miffed to be in the playoffs having taken 27 points from their 10 group matches. In fact they're probably feeling a bit like someone who's just smashed a job interview only to be told "sorry, we had the absolutely perfect candidate come in after you".  But anyway, enough of my employment history, here the Swiss are at Windsor Park where they will be up against the formidable Northern Irish rearguard that kept seven clean sheets in 10 qualifying matches.  The West Brom pair of Gareth McAuley and Jonny Evans are the defensive bedrock of the side, while further forward Steven Davis will provide the dynamism and energy from midfield as he earns his 100th international cap.  Up front, Kyle Lafferty (one of those David Healy/Miroslav Klose types who is far better at international than club level) and Josh Magennis will look to unsettle the Swiss back four, which is without former Arsenal centre-back Johan Djourou. Current Arsenal midfielder Granit Xhaka will pull the strings for Switzerland tonight, while Xherdan Shaqiri will be tasked with providing the creative spark.  Juventus's Stephan Lichtsteiner and AC Milan's Ricardo Rodriguez will offer width and an attacking threat from the full-back positions.  My prediction for what it's worth is Northern Ireland 0 Switzerland 1.  6:51PM Teams are in  Northern Ireland:McGovern, McLaughlin, McAuley, J Evans, Brunt, Norwood , C Evans, Davis, Magennis, Lafferty, Dallas Switzerland: Sommer, Lichtsteiner, Schär, Akanji, Rodríguez, Xhaka, Zakaria, Shaqiri, Dzemaili, Zuber, Seferovic 6:06PM Preview - Fighting talk from Ward We'll be back at 6.45pm with the team news and then the build-up to tonight's World Cup play-off, but before then here's a wee preview from our pals at the Press Association.  Jamie Ward has cranked up the pressure on Switzerland by telling them Northern Ireland will thrive as the underdogs in their World Cup play-off. The Northern Irish missed out on being seeded for the draw last month by virtue of their world ranking, so knew they would face either the Swiss, Italy, Croatia or Denmark over two legs to determine their Russia fate. Nottingham Forest forward Ward, back in Michael O'Neill's fold for the first time since March having overcome a calf problem, had no qualms with that and has told Switzerland they have to handle the expectation. Vladimir Petkovic's team arrived in Belfast on Tuesday ahead of Thursday's first leg, and Ward said: "They've got to take their chances. Everyone is expecting them to win in the football world. Michael O'Neill has done a magnificent job as Northern Ireland manager Credit: Getty Images "They're obviously the seeded team, so the pressure's more on them than us. "We're always great as the underdogs, so I think it was a bit of a bonus us not being seeded. "If you're seeded, you get a little more pressure on yourself so we'll go into this game as underdogs again. Hopefully we can be worthy winners. "We'd love something heading over there. I think we're strong at home and you've seen that over the last few years. "If we play the way we can play, I don't see why we can't take a lead out there or at least a positive result." Should O'Neill's team find a way past the Swiss, they would end a 32-year exile from the World Cup finals and become the first Northern Irish side in history to make back-to-back major tournaments. With Wales and Scotland already out of the running, and the Republic of Ireland involved in their own play-off, Ward feels the Northern Irish are still not getting the recognition they warrant. "I think people see it as it's Northern Ireland and they've not done well for a long time, but on the other side they will go and buy players from the Republic squad," he added. "Premier League clubs are happy to do that. We're just as good as them, but it's obviously someone taking a risk or a chance on us and letting us prove we're worth playing at the next level."

Northern Ireland 0 Switzerland 1: Furious Jonny Evans says penalty decision was 'even worse than the Thierry Henry v Ireland handball'

The good news for Northern Ireland is they still have another 90 minutes to try to put things right but they will travel to Basel for the second leg of this World Cup play-off on Sunday nursing an acute and indisputable sense of injustice. Switzerland were the better team but they owe their slender lead largely thanks to an alarmingly incompetent piece of officiating from Romanian referee Ovidiu Hategan that Michael O’Neill called the worst he had ever seen in international football and saw the biggest night of football in Belfast for 36 years descend into acrimony. “Staggering” and “bewildering” were two of the other words the livid Northern Ireland manager used to describe Hategan’s decision to penalise Corry Evans for a perceived handball, when in fact the ball had hit his back, and award the Swiss a penalty that Ricardo Rodriguez converted. To compound matters, Evans picked up a booking in the process and will now be suspended for the second leg and Hategan’s decision to book rather than send off Switzerland defender Fabian Schar for an awful, two footed lunge on Stuart Dallas in the fifth minute merely added insult to injury. Dallas struggled on before being substituted early in the second half and could also now miss the return game. What is it about the Irish, handballs and World Cup play-offs? Few across the border in Ireland have forgotten about Thierry Henry’s unpunished handball in the lead up to the goal from William Gallas that controversially sent France to the 2010 World Cup finals. The ball hits Corry Evans' back - but a penalty was given Credit:  Getty Images Europe And if Hategan’s ineptitude is not to play a crucial role in taking Switzerland to Russia, Northern Ireland will have to make history. No team has ever lost the first leg of a World Cup play-off at home and retrieved the situation. They must also overcome a side that has not lost a competitive home match for over three years. "It was actually a worse decision (than Thierry Henry's handball) because the ref has made a call that was not there," Jonny Evans, Corry's brother, said Asked if he had seen a poorer decision from a referee, O’Neill said: “Well certainly not in any of the games that I have been involved in, particularly at this level, no. I am not in a position to say the referee is incompetent but it’s just staggering in this day and age when the stakes are so high that something like that is a game changer. “The ball clearly strikes Corry on the back and the referee has a clear view of the incident. I thought he had given an offside or something. I spent three hours in a video conference with Fifa the other week on video assistant referees (VAR) and certainly when you see what happened tonight you would be an advocate of it.” VAR will be trialled for the first time in an official game in the UK in England’s friendly against Germany at Wembley on Friday evening although a fat lot of good that does Northern Ireland. In truth, though, help and video replays should not have been required in this instance, and when Hategan did point to the spot, the only surprise greater than that on the faces of the players was that the assistant referee did not intervene and explain to Hategan the error of his ways. Rodriguez gets a pass away down the Switzerland left  Xherdan Shaqiri’s reaction after rifling a volley at Evans, who was standing only a few yards away, was telling in itself. There was no appeal for a penalty from the Stoke playmaker who, like most others, had seen Evans turn his back on the shot and watch it deflect off the upper back part of his shoulder and away. “It was disgraceful,” Evans said. “I clearly didn’t put my hand up. I know it him me on the back of the shoulder and I’m just absolutely gutted. He’s booked me which means I’m out of the second leg as well which is devastating.” Just as Northern Ireland cannot allow anger to ruin their focus in Basel, though – O’Neill talked about channeling that rage – so they will have to perform better than they did here. Northern Ireland vs Switzerland shots on goal Switzerland created the better chances and looked the superior side, although Northern Ireland’s reaction after the penalty was impressive. However, for large periods of the first half they were sucked deeper and deeper and rode their luck, as they did at times before Rodriguez scored. Haris Seferovic should have scored in the 17th minute. Shaqiri played a sublime raking pass on the turn over the head of Gareth McAuley and into the path of the Benfica striker, who stuck out a foot and poked the ball towards the far corner which Michael McGovern managed to get his fingertips to. Jonny Evans had earlier made a terrific block to deny Blerim Dzemaili, who later provided a cross that Seferovic narrowly failed to reach as it zipped across the face of the goal. Northern Ireland’s best hope of a goal looked to be from a set-piece but they wasted a series of good dead ball situations and Josh Magennis was guilty of sending a header wide from an inviting position from Chris Brunt’s free-kick. 9:36PM Full-time That's that. The full-time whistle goes and it finishes Northern Ireland 0 Switzerland 1.  Switzerland were much the better side, but their winning goal was never a penalty in a million years. The Swiss could also have been down to 10 men after a few minutes for Fabian Schar's reckless challenge on Stuart Dallas.  9:35PM 90+4 min Slightly comical moment here as Saville goes charging over to berate Lichtsteiner after the full-back goes down with cramp.  9:33PM 90+2 min Xhaka gives away a needless free-kick around 40 yards out. Brunt clips it in, but Switzerland hack the ball away.  9:31PM 90 min End to end stuff as Northern Ireland go flooding forward, which is leaving themselves open to the counter.  Four minutes of time added on... Northern Ireland vs Switzerland shots on goal 9:30PM 89 min Akanji was brought in to replace the injured Djourou tonight, and he's barely put a foot wrong. So quick and lots of clever interceptions.  9:28PM 87 min Final Swiss change as Mehmedi comes on for the very impressive Zuber.  9:27PM 86 min Saville bursts into the box and goes down under the challenge of Xhaka. The crowd scream for a penalty, but it's an excellent tackle with the ball won cleanly. Even Gerry Armstrong accepts the decision!  9:25PM 85 min Still no shots on target from NI, who have really lacked quality in the final third tonight.  Northern Ireland vs Switzerland shots on goal 9:25PM 84 min Penalty shout for Northern Ireland as Magennis' header hits Rodriguez from close in, but it's his chest rather than his hand.  Switzerland make another change, as Frei comes on for Dzemaili.  9:22PM 81 min NI asking questions of their opponents with a flurry of long throws, but Switzerland are holding firm at the moment.  9:19PM 78 min Switzerland make their first change - Embolo on for Seferovic.  NI make their last change - Washington on for Lafferty.  9:14PM 74 min Lafferty wins another free-kick for his team, and this time it's within shooting distance. It's a few yards to the right, so well set up for Brunt's left foot - about 25 yards out. Brunt goes for power, but it's wide of the far post.   9:13PM 71 min Best chance of the night for NI, and unsurprisingly it came from a set play. Brunt curls in an absolute peach from the right, but Magennis nods a free header wide. Huge opportunity gone.  Michael O'Neill tries to get his team going  9:10PM 69 min The visitors are going for the kill, but Shaqiri can't get enough on his pull-back and McGovern gratefully gathers.  9:08PM 67 min  Switzerland stroking the ball around comfortably, as they've done for much of the game.  Possession: Northern Ireland vs Switzerland 9:06PM 65 min Another NI change - Corry Evans off for the Millwall midfielder George Saville.  9:05PM 64 min  Ward, whose been a ball of energy since coming on, is booked for a late challenge on Lichtsteiner.  9:03PM 62 min A very old-school chant of "The referee's a w*****" rings around Windsor Park.  9:02PM 60 min Corry Evans meanwhile picked up a booking for that 'handball', and he'll be suspended for the second leg. Gerry Armstrong is absolutely raging about the decision! It did look harsh to be fair.  Evans was so close to Shaqiri and I'm not sure it even hit his hand!  8:59PM GOAL! Northern Ireland 0 Switzerland 1 (Rodriguez 58') Rodriguez sweeps the ball into the bottom right-hand corner with his left foot, sending McGovern the wrong way.  Northern Ireland 0 - 1 Switzerland (Ricardo Rodríguez, 58 min) 8:58PM 57 min Penalty Switzerland! Shaqiri's volley is blocked by Corry Evans, and the referee deems it as handball. That looks very harsh given how close Evans was to Shaqiri when he made the block.  8:57PM 56 min Oh my, Switzerland are inches away from taking the lead. Dzemaili fizzes a low cross that is just in front of Seferovic, who would have had a tap in from a couple of yards out. Switzerland can't believe they haven't scored.  8:54PM 53 min Shaqiri has a go from about 30 yards, but I'm not exaggerating when I say it's closer to flying out of the stadium than hitting the back of the net. Switzerland running out of ideas?  8:53PM 52 min The rain is flying down now, and it's pathetic fallacy for Dallas, who looks gutted to be replaced by Nottingham Forest winger Jamie Ward.  8:51PM 49 min Dallas is still on, but he's really not moving freely. Come on pal, think it's time to go off.  8:48PM 46 min That is mighty close for Switzerland. Brunt misses Rodriguez's cross, and the ball falls to Shaqiri on the edge of the box. The Stoke man cuts inside and curls a beauty of a shot that just tickles the crossbar as it floats agonisingly too high. NI living extremely dangerously.  8:47PM 46 min We're back underway. Dallas is back out for NI despite that ankle knock.  8:41PM Deadlock Lots of Swiss probing, plenty of dogged Northern Irish defending, and a whole lot of nothing on the scoreboard. Lichtsteiner, Zakaria and Zuber have all impressed for Switzerland, while Jonny Evans has been a rock at the back for the hosts.   The main talking point has been whether Schar should have been sent off for clattering into Dallas. It's a call that really could have gone either way, and isn't that interesting to keep poring over. Northern Ireland vs Switzerland shots on goal 8:31PM Half-time Switzerland well on top, but it's goalless at the break.  8:30PM 45 min Very nearly for Switzerland, but Lichtsteiner slips as he tries to latch onto Seferovic's flick-on. The full-back was clean through if he'd kept his feet.  Possession: Northern Ireland vs Switzerland 8:27PM 43 min Shaqiri and Lichtsteiner are so dangerous in tandem down the Swiss right, but it's brilliant defensive work by Jonny Evans to block the right back's cross after the pair had linked up once again.  8:26PM 42 min Dallas is back on, but wincing in pain. He actually manages to get on the ball straight away and dig out a cross, but it's badly misplaced.  8:25PM 41 min Real shame for Northern Ireland. Dallas has not recovered from getting clobbered by Schar early on, and he's surely going to have to be replaced. Gerry Armstrong is insistent that it should have been a red card. Personally I think that would have been a touch harsh.  8:23PM 38 min NI try their luck with another long throw, and Lafferty feels he was pushed in the area by Schar as he tried to get on the end of it. Nothing really in that though.  8:20PM 35 min Zakaria in the centre of midfield is really having an excellent game and making his presence felt. He and Xhaka are running the show at the moment. Seferovic meanwhile heads Lichtsteiner's cross well off target.  8:16PM 31 min Switzerland counter at break-neck speed and eventually win a free-kick down the left. Xhaka whips it in, and it's a good one, but Evans manages to head it away.  Northern Ireland vs Switzerland shots on goal 8:14PM 29 min Some respite for Northern Ireland as they force Switzerland into a few clever headed clearances from some hoiked crosses into the box.  8:12PM 27 min Switzerland are putting together some lovely passing moves, but as yet they can't quite make a breakthrough. To give you an idea of how the game is panning out - Switzerland have made 162 passes to Northern Ireland's 53.  8:09PM 23 min Lichtsteiner once more comes flying forward down the right and he digs out a cross that Zuber can't quite get a good connection on. All Switzerland at the moment.  8:06PM 20 min We probably knew this already but for NI to qualify, Switzerland are going to have to be extremely wasteful over the two legs. The visitors look like creating chances pretty much every time they go forward.  8:04PM 18 min Yeah this is a really strong period for Switzerland. Lichtsteiner is again in lots of space down the right, and his low pinpoint cross is cleared by McAuley. Moments later Shaqiri picks out Seferovic with a beautiful diagonal, but the striker's hooked volley is well saved by McGovern. Backs to the wall stuff from Northern Ireland.  Attempt Saved: Northern Ireland 0 - 0 Switzerland (Haris Seferovic, 18 min) 8:01PM 17 min Switzerland offer a real threat down both flanks, and this time it's down the right where they make hay. Lichtsteiner bombs forward and clips in a lovely cross that just evades Zuber.  7:59PM 14 min NI look most dangerous from set pieces, and a high ball into the box is met well by McAuley before Lafferty has a volley deflected wide. The resulting corner is headed over by Jonny Evans from about 10 yards out. Not an easy chance.  7:58PM 12 min Zubrr does brilliantly down the left - he looks a real handful - and he picks out Xhaka around 25 yards from goal. Again though the Arsenal man is off target with a left-footed curler.  Miss: Northern Ireland 0 - 0 Switzerland (Granit Xhaka, 12 min) 7:55PM 9 min Switzerland enjoy a good period and create a couple of decent chances. First Dzemaili has a shot blocked inside the area before Xhaka fires over from the edge of the box. The pressure is really building for Switzerland here.  7:52PM 6 min Brunt hoists in the resulting free-kick, which is headed clear by Xhaka. That Dallas break incidentally came from a misplaced Xhaka pass.  7:50PM 5 min Schar picks up an early booking for a really bad tackle on Dallas. He went absolutely flying into the Northern Ireland forward as he broke clear down the left.  7:48PM 4 min Lafferty stabs a volley well wide from another Magennis cross as NI try and keep the pressure up in the early stages.  7:47PM 3 min The noise really is deafening, and the stadium is awash with green and white. Magennis does well down the right and whips a cross in, but it's well cleared by the Swiss defence. Real up and at 'em start from the hosts.  7:45PM Kick-off We're under way. A reminder of the teams - Michael O'Neill has opted for Kyle Lafferty up front ahead of Conor Washington.  Northern Ireland (4-3-3): McGovern; McLaughlin, McAuley, J Evans, Brunt; Norwood, C Evans, Davis; Magennis, Lafferty, Dallas. Switzerland (4-2-3-1): Sommer; Lichtsteiner, Akanji, Schar, Rodriguez; Xhaka, Zakaria; Shaqiri, Dzemaili, Zuber; Seferovic. 7:43PM What a noise The anthems are belted out, and Steven Davis is presented with a trophy to mark him winning his 100th NI cap. I feel I'm contractually obliged to describe this as a 'nice touch'.  7:39PM Fortress Windsor NI have won nine of their last 11 home matches, and the atmosphere at Windsor Park is absolutely electric. Teams are in the tunnel about to come out... 7:19PM On a tightrope Steven Davis, Jonny Evans, Corry Evans, Stuart Dallas, Oliver Norwood and Josh Magennis are all one yellow card away from a suspension that would rule them out of the second leg. 7:11PM What's been said Northern Ireland ended a 30-year wait for a finals appearance as they reached Euro 2016 and Josh Magennis, 27, wants to again experience the wave of emotion which greeted that achievement. "We didn't realise the magnitude of [qualifying for] France until we were here about to go and social media-wise and media-wise, it was just everywhere. "What it did for the country, not just ourselves, was basically unite people for about a month. It was absolutely massive." Northern Ireland captain Steven Davis, who is set to win his 100th cap, says his side must get their midfield balance right at Windsor Park. "From seeing some early analysis of them, they're clearly very comfortable in possession," said the Northern Ireland skipper. "It's going to be a difficult game. If you look at their results in qualifying, they were very unfortunate not to qualify automatically for the World Cup.  Steve Davis wins his 100th cap on Thursday night "The biggest thing for us is going to be getting that balance right, between pressing and cutting off the lines for them to play through. "If we can do that, we know we've got the quality to hurt them, and there are weaknesses we can exploit." 6:58PM Preamble Evening all, Can Northern Ireland take a big step tonight towards ending 31 years of hurt by qualifying for their first World Cup since 1986? Standing in their way are Switzerland, who have qualified for the previous three World Cups and are a little miffed to be in the playoffs having taken 27 points from their 10 group matches. In fact they're probably feeling a bit like someone who's just smashed a job interview only to be told "sorry, we had the absolutely perfect candidate come in after you".  But anyway, enough of my employment history, here the Swiss are at Windsor Park where they will be up against the formidable Northern Irish rearguard that kept seven clean sheets in 10 qualifying matches.  The West Brom pair of Gareth McAuley and Jonny Evans are the defensive bedrock of the side, while further forward Steven Davis will provide the dynamism and energy from midfield as he earns his 100th international cap.  Up front, Kyle Lafferty (one of those David Healy/Miroslav Klose types who is far better at international than club level) and Josh Magennis will look to unsettle the Swiss back four, which is without former Arsenal centre-back Johan Djourou. Current Arsenal midfielder Granit Xhaka will pull the strings for Switzerland tonight, while Xherdan Shaqiri will be tasked with providing the creative spark.  Juventus's Stephan Lichtsteiner and AC Milan's Ricardo Rodriguez will offer width and an attacking threat from the full-back positions.  My prediction for what it's worth is Northern Ireland 0 Switzerland 1.  6:51PM Teams are in  Northern Ireland:McGovern, McLaughlin, McAuley, J Evans, Brunt, Norwood , C Evans, Davis, Magennis, Lafferty, Dallas Switzerland: Sommer, Lichtsteiner, Schär, Akanji, Rodríguez, Xhaka, Zakaria, Shaqiri, Dzemaili, Zuber, Seferovic 6:06PM Preview - Fighting talk from Ward We'll be back at 6.45pm with the team news and then the build-up to tonight's World Cup play-off, but before then here's a wee preview from our pals at the Press Association.  Jamie Ward has cranked up the pressure on Switzerland by telling them Northern Ireland will thrive as the underdogs in their World Cup play-off. The Northern Irish missed out on being seeded for the draw last month by virtue of their world ranking, so knew they would face either the Swiss, Italy, Croatia or Denmark over two legs to determine their Russia fate. Nottingham Forest forward Ward, back in Michael O'Neill's fold for the first time since March having overcome a calf problem, had no qualms with that and has told Switzerland they have to handle the expectation. Vladimir Petkovic's team arrived in Belfast on Tuesday ahead of Thursday's first leg, and Ward said: "They've got to take their chances. Everyone is expecting them to win in the football world. Michael O'Neill has done a magnificent job as Northern Ireland manager Credit: Getty Images "They're obviously the seeded team, so the pressure's more on them than us. "We're always great as the underdogs, so I think it was a bit of a bonus us not being seeded. "If you're seeded, you get a little more pressure on yourself so we'll go into this game as underdogs again. Hopefully we can be worthy winners. "We'd love something heading over there. I think we're strong at home and you've seen that over the last few years. "If we play the way we can play, I don't see why we can't take a lead out there or at least a positive result." Should O'Neill's team find a way past the Swiss, they would end a 32-year exile from the World Cup finals and become the first Northern Irish side in history to make back-to-back major tournaments. With Wales and Scotland already out of the running, and the Republic of Ireland involved in their own play-off, Ward feels the Northern Irish are still not getting the recognition they warrant. "I think people see it as it's Northern Ireland and they've not done well for a long time, but on the other side they will go and buy players from the Republic squad," he added. "Premier League clubs are happy to do that. We're just as good as them, but it's obviously someone taking a risk or a chance on us and letting us prove we're worth playing at the next level."

Northern Ireland 0 Switzerland 1: Furious Corry Evans says penalty decision was 'even worse than the Thierry Henry v Ireland handball'

The good news for Northern Ireland is they still have another 90 minutes to try to put things right but they will travel to Basel for the second leg of this World Cup play-off on Sunday nursing an acute and indisputable sense of injustice. Switzerland were the better team but they owe their slender lead largely thanks to an alarmingly incompetent piece of officiating from Romanian referee Ovidiu Hategan that Michael O’Neill called the worst he had ever seen in international football and saw the biggest night of football in Belfast for 36 years descend into acrimony. “Staggering” and “bewildering” were two of the other words the livid Northern Ireland manager used to describe Hategan’s decision to penalise Corry Evans for a perceived handball, when in fact the ball had hit his back, and award the Swiss a penalty that Ricardo Rodriguez converted. To compound matters, Evans picked up a booking in the process and will now be suspended for the second leg and Hategan’s decision to book rather than send off Switzerland defender Fabian Schar for an awful, two footed lunge on Stuart Dallas in the fifth minute merely added insult to injury. Dallas struggled on before being substituted early in the second half and could also now miss the return game. What is it about the Irish, handballs and World Cup play-offs? Few across the border in Ireland have forgotten about Thierry Henry’s unpunished handball in the lead up to the goal from William Gallas that controversially sent France to the 2010 World Cup finals. Steven Davis of Northern Ireland and Granit Xhaka of Switzerland battle for possession Credit: Getty Images And if Hategan’s ineptitude is not to play a crucial role in taking Switzerland to Russia, Northern Ireland will have to make history. No team has ever lost the first leg of a World Cup play-off at home and retrieved the situation. They must also overcome a side that has not lost a competitive home match for over three years. "It was actually a worse decision (than Thierry Henry's handball) because the ref has made a call that was not there," Jonny Evans, Corry's brother, said Asked if he had seen a poorer decision from a referee, O’Neill said: “Well certainly not in any of the games that I have been involved in, particularly at this level, no. I am not in a position to say the referee is incompetent but it’s just staggering in this day and age when the stakes are so high that something like that is a game changer. “The ball clearly strikes Corry on the back and the referee has a clear view of the incident. I thought he had given an offside or something. I spent three hours in a video conference with Fifa the other week on video assistant referees (VAR) and certainly when you see what happened tonight you would be an advocate of it.” VAR will be trialled for the first time in an official game in the UK in England’s friendly against Germany at Wembley on Friday evening although a fat lot of good that does Northern Ireland. In truth, though, help and video replays should not have been required in this instance, and when Hategan did point to the spot, the only surprise greater than that on the faces of the players was that the assistant referee did not intervene and explain to Hategan the error of his ways. Rodriguez gets a pass away down the Switzerland left  Xherdan Shaqiri’s reaction after rifling a volley at Evans, who was standing only a few yards away, was telling in itself. There was no appeal for a penalty from the Stoke playmaker who, like most others, had seen Evans turn his back on the shot and watch it deflect off the upper back part of his shoulder and away. “It was disgraceful,” Evans said. “I clearly didn’t put my hand up. I know it him me on the back of the shoulder and I’m just absolutely gutted. He’s booked me which means I’m out of the second leg as well which is devastating.” Just as Northern Ireland cannot allow anger to ruin their focus in Basel, though – O’Neill talked about channeling that rage – so they will have to perform better than they did here. Northern Ireland vs Switzerland shots on goal Switzerland created the better chances and looked the superior side, although Northern Ireland’s reaction after the penalty was impressive. However, for large periods of the first half they were sucked deeper and deeper and rode their luck, as they did at times before Rodriguez scored. Haris Seferovic should have scored in the 17th minute. Shaqiri played a sublime raking pass on the turn over the head of Gareth McAuley and into the path of the Benfica striker, who stuck out a foot and poked the ball towards the far corner which Michael McGovern managed to get his fingertips to. Jonny Evans had earlier made a terrific block to deny Blerim Dzemaili, who later provided a cross that Seferovic narrowly failed to reach as it zipped across the face of the goal. Northern Ireland’s best hope of a goal looked to be from a set-piece but they wasted a series of good dead ball situations and Josh Magennis was guilty of sending a header wide from an inviting position from Chris Brunt’s free-kick. 9:36PM Full-time That's that. The full-time whistle goes and it finishes Northern Ireland 0 Switzerland 1.  Switzerland were much the better side, but their winning goal was never a penalty in a million years. The Swiss could also have been down to 10 men after a few minutes for Fabian Schar's reckless challenge on Stuart Dallas.  9:35PM 90+4 min Slightly comical moment here as Saville goes charging over to berate Lichtsteiner after the full-back goes down with cramp.  9:33PM 90+2 min Xhaka gives away a needless free-kick around 40 yards out. Brunt clips it in, but Switzerland hack the ball away.  9:31PM 90 min End to end stuff as Northern Ireland go flooding forward, which is leaving themselves open to the counter.  Four minutes of time added on... Northern Ireland vs Switzerland shots on goal 9:30PM 89 min Akanji was brought in to replace the injured Djourou tonight, and he's barely put a foot wrong. So quick and lots of clever interceptions.  9:28PM 87 min Final Swiss change as Mehmedi comes on for the very impressive Zuber.  9:27PM 86 min Saville bursts into the box and goes down under the challenge of Xhaka. The crowd scream for a penalty, but it's an excellent tackle with the ball won cleanly. Even Gerry Armstrong accepts the decision!  9:25PM 85 min Still no shots on target from NI, who have really lacked quality in the final third tonight.  Northern Ireland vs Switzerland shots on goal 9:25PM 84 min Penalty shout for Northern Ireland as Magennis' header hits Rodriguez from close in, but it's his chest rather than his hand.  Switzerland make another change, as Frei comes on for Dzemaili.  9:22PM 81 min NI asking questions of their opponents with a flurry of long throws, but Switzerland are holding firm at the moment.  9:19PM 78 min Switzerland make their first change - Embolo on for Seferovic.  NI make their last change - Washington on for Lafferty.  9:14PM 74 min Lafferty wins another free-kick for his team, and this time it's within shooting distance. It's a few yards to the right, so well set up for Brunt's left foot - about 25 yards out. Brunt goes for power, but it's wide of the far post.   9:13PM 71 min Best chance of the night for NI, and unsurprisingly it came from a set play. Brunt curls in an absolute peach from the right, but Magennis nods a free header wide. Huge opportunity gone.  Michael O'Neill tries to get his team going  9:10PM 69 min The visitors are going for the kill, but Shaqiri can't get enough on his pull-back and McGovern gratefully gathers.  9:08PM 67 min  Switzerland stroking the ball around comfortably, as they've done for much of the game.  Possession: Northern Ireland vs Switzerland 9:06PM 65 min Another NI change - Corry Evans off for the Millwall midfielder George Saville.  9:05PM 64 min  Ward, whose been a ball of energy since coming on, is booked for a late challenge on Lichtsteiner.  9:03PM 62 min A very old-school chant of "The referee's a w*****" rings around Windsor Park.  9:02PM 60 min Corry Evans meanwhile picked up a booking for that 'handball', and he'll be suspended for the second leg. Gerry Armstrong is absolutely raging about the decision! It did look harsh to be fair.  Evans was so close to Shaqiri and I'm not sure it even hit his hand!  8:59PM GOAL! Northern Ireland 0 Switzerland 1 (Rodriguez 58') Rodriguez sweeps the ball into the bottom right-hand corner with his left foot, sending McGovern the wrong way.  Northern Ireland 0 - 1 Switzerland (Ricardo Rodríguez, 58 min) 8:58PM 57 min Penalty Switzerland! Shaqiri's volley is blocked by Corry Evans, and the referee deems it as handball. That looks very harsh given how close Evans was to Shaqiri when he made the block.  8:57PM 56 min Oh my, Switzerland are inches away from taking the lead. Dzemaili fizzes a low cross that is just in front of Seferovic, who would have had a tap in from a couple of yards out. Switzerland can't believe they haven't scored.  8:54PM 53 min Shaqiri has a go from about 30 yards, but I'm not exaggerating when I say it's closer to flying out of the stadium than hitting the back of the net. Switzerland running out of ideas?  8:53PM 52 min The rain is flying down now, and it's pathetic fallacy for Dallas, who looks gutted to be replaced by Nottingham Forest winger Jamie Ward.  8:51PM 49 min Dallas is still on, but he's really not moving freely. Come on pal, think it's time to go off.  8:48PM 46 min That is mighty close for Switzerland. Brunt misses Rodriguez's cross, and the ball falls to Shaqiri on the edge of the box. The Stoke man cuts inside and curls a beauty of a shot that just tickles the crossbar as it floats agonisingly too high. NI living extremely dangerously.  8:47PM 46 min We're back underway. Dallas is back out for NI despite that ankle knock.  8:41PM Deadlock Lots of Swiss probing, plenty of dogged Northern Irish defending, and a whole lot of nothing on the scoreboard. Lichtsteiner, Zakaria and Zuber have all impressed for Switzerland, while Jonny Evans has been a rock at the back for the hosts.   The main talking point has been whether Schar should have been sent off for clattering into Dallas. It's a call that really could have gone either way, and isn't that interesting to keep poring over. Northern Ireland vs Switzerland shots on goal 8:31PM Half-time Switzerland well on top, but it's goalless at the break.  8:30PM 45 min Very nearly for Switzerland, but Lichtsteiner slips as he tries to latch onto Seferovic's flick-on. The full-back was clean through if he'd kept his feet.  Possession: Northern Ireland vs Switzerland 8:27PM 43 min Shaqiri and Lichtsteiner are so dangerous in tandem down the Swiss right, but it's brilliant defensive work by Jonny Evans to block the right back's cross after the pair had linked up once again.  8:26PM 42 min Dallas is back on, but wincing in pain. He actually manages to get on the ball straight away and dig out a cross, but it's badly misplaced.  8:25PM 41 min Real shame for Northern Ireland. Dallas has not recovered from getting clobbered by Schar early on, and he's surely going to have to be replaced. Gerry Armstrong is insistent that it should have been a red card. Personally I think that would have been a touch harsh.  8:23PM 38 min NI try their luck with another long throw, and Lafferty feels he was pushed in the area by Schar as he tried to get on the end of it. Nothing really in that though.  8:20PM 35 min Zakaria in the centre of midfield is really having an excellent game and making his presence felt. He and Xhaka are running the show at the moment. Seferovic meanwhile heads Lichtsteiner's cross well off target.  8:16PM 31 min Switzerland counter at break-neck speed and eventually win a free-kick down the left. Xhaka whips it in, and it's a good one, but Evans manages to head it away.  Northern Ireland vs Switzerland shots on goal 8:14PM 29 min Some respite for Northern Ireland as they force Switzerland into a few clever headed clearances from some hoiked crosses into the box.  8:12PM 27 min Switzerland are putting together some lovely passing moves, but as yet they can't quite make a breakthrough. To give you an idea of how the game is panning out - Switzerland have made 162 passes to Northern Ireland's 53.  8:09PM 23 min Lichtsteiner once more comes flying forward down the right and he digs out a cross that Zuber can't quite get a good connection on. All Switzerland at the moment.  8:06PM 20 min We probably knew this already but for NI to qualify, Switzerland are going to have to be extremely wasteful over the two legs. The visitors look like creating chances pretty much every time they go forward.  8:04PM 18 min Yeah this is a really strong period for Switzerland. Lichtsteiner is again in lots of space down the right, and his low pinpoint cross is cleared by McAuley. Moments later Shaqiri picks out Seferovic with a beautiful diagonal, but the striker's hooked volley is well saved by McGovern. Backs to the wall stuff from Northern Ireland.  Attempt Saved: Northern Ireland 0 - 0 Switzerland (Haris Seferovic, 18 min) 8:01PM 17 min Switzerland offer a real threat down both flanks, and this time it's down the right where they make hay. Lichtsteiner bombs forward and clips in a lovely cross that just evades Zuber.  7:59PM 14 min NI look most dangerous from set pieces, and a high ball into the box is met well by McAuley before Lafferty has a volley deflected wide. The resulting corner is headed over by Jonny Evans from about 10 yards out. Not an easy chance.  7:58PM 12 min Zubrr does brilliantly down the left - he looks a real handful - and he picks out Xhaka around 25 yards from goal. Again though the Arsenal man is off target with a left-footed curler.  Miss: Northern Ireland 0 - 0 Switzerland (Granit Xhaka, 12 min) 7:55PM 9 min Switzerland enjoy a good period and create a couple of decent chances. First Dzemaili has a shot blocked inside the area before Xhaka fires over from the edge of the box. The pressure is really building for Switzerland here.  7:52PM 6 min Brunt hoists in the resulting free-kick, which is headed clear by Xhaka. That Dallas break incidentally came from a misplaced Xhaka pass.  7:50PM 5 min Schar picks up an early booking for a really bad tackle on Dallas. He went absolutely flying into the Northern Ireland forward as he broke clear down the left.  7:48PM 4 min Lafferty stabs a volley well wide from another Magennis cross as NI try and keep the pressure up in the early stages.  7:47PM 3 min The noise really is deafening, and the stadium is awash with green and white. Magennis does well down the right and whips a cross in, but it's well cleared by the Swiss defence. Real up and at 'em start from the hosts.  7:45PM Kick-off We're under way. A reminder of the teams - Michael O'Neill has opted for Kyle Lafferty up front ahead of Conor Washington.  Northern Ireland (4-3-3): McGovern; McLaughlin, McAuley, J Evans, Brunt; Norwood, C Evans, Davis; Magennis, Lafferty, Dallas. Switzerland (4-2-3-1): Sommer; Lichtsteiner, Akanji, Schar, Rodriguez; Xhaka, Zakaria; Shaqiri, Dzemaili, Zuber; Seferovic. 7:43PM What a noise The anthems are belted out, and Steven Davis is presented with a trophy to mark him winning his 100th NI cap. I feel I'm contractually obliged to describe this as a 'nice touch'.  7:39PM Fortress Windsor NI have won nine of their last 11 home matches, and the atmosphere at Windsor Park is absolutely electric. Teams are in the tunnel about to come out... 7:19PM On a tightrope Steven Davis, Jonny Evans, Corry Evans, Stuart Dallas, Oliver Norwood and Josh Magennis are all one yellow card away from a suspension that would rule them out of the second leg. 7:11PM What's been said Northern Ireland ended a 30-year wait for a finals appearance as they reached Euro 2016 and Josh Magennis, 27, wants to again experience the wave of emotion which greeted that achievement. "We didn't realise the magnitude of [qualifying for] France until we were here about to go and social media-wise and media-wise, it was just everywhere. "What it did for the country, not just ourselves, was basically unite people for about a month. It was absolutely massive." Northern Ireland captain Steven Davis, who is set to win his 100th cap, says his side must get their midfield balance right at Windsor Park. "From seeing some early analysis of them, they're clearly very comfortable in possession," said the Northern Ireland skipper. "It's going to be a difficult game. If you look at their results in qualifying, they were very unfortunate not to qualify automatically for the World Cup.  Steve Davis wins his 100th cap on Thursday night "The biggest thing for us is going to be getting that balance right, between pressing and cutting off the lines for them to play through. "If we can do that, we know we've got the quality to hurt them, and there are weaknesses we can exploit." 6:58PM Preamble Evening all, Can Northern Ireland take a big step tonight towards ending 31 years of hurt by qualifying for their first World Cup since 1986? Standing in their way are Switzerland, who have qualified for the previous three World Cups and are a little miffed to be in the playoffs having taken 27 points from their 10 group matches. In fact they're probably feeling a bit like someone who's just smashed a job interview only to be told "sorry, we had the absolutely perfect candidate come in after you".  But anyway, enough of my employment history, here the Swiss are at Windsor Park where they will be up against the formidable Northern Irish rearguard that kept seven clean sheets in 10 qualifying matches.  The West Brom pair of Gareth McAuley and Jonny Evans are the defensive bedrock of the side, while further forward Steven Davis will provide the dynamism and energy from midfield as he earns his 100th international cap.  Up front, Kyle Lafferty (one of those David Healy/Miroslav Klose types who is far better at international than club level) and Josh Magennis will look to unsettle the Swiss back four, which is without former Arsenal centre-back Johan Djourou. Current Arsenal midfielder Granit Xhaka will pull the strings for Switzerland tonight, while Xherdan Shaqiri will be tasked with providing the creative spark.  Juventus's Stephan Lichtsteiner and AC Milan's Ricardo Rodriguez will offer width and an attacking threat from the full-back positions.  My prediction for what it's worth is Northern Ireland 0 Switzerland 1.  6:51PM Teams are in  Northern Ireland:McGovern, McLaughlin, McAuley, J Evans, Brunt, Norwood , C Evans, Davis, Magennis, Lafferty, Dallas Switzerland: Sommer, Lichtsteiner, Schär, Akanji, Rodríguez, Xhaka, Zakaria, Shaqiri, Dzemaili, Zuber, Seferovic 6:06PM Preview - Fighting talk from Ward We'll be back at 6.45pm with the team news and then the build-up to tonight's World Cup play-off, but before then here's a wee preview from our pals at the Press Association.  Jamie Ward has cranked up the pressure on Switzerland by telling them Northern Ireland will thrive as the underdogs in their World Cup play-off. The Northern Irish missed out on being seeded for the draw last month by virtue of their world ranking, so knew they would face either the Swiss, Italy, Croatia or Denmark over two legs to determine their Russia fate. Nottingham Forest forward Ward, back in Michael O'Neill's fold for the first time since March having overcome a calf problem, had no qualms with that and has told Switzerland they have to handle the expectation. Vladimir Petkovic's team arrived in Belfast on Tuesday ahead of Thursday's first leg, and Ward said: "They've got to take their chances. Everyone is expecting them to win in the football world. Michael O'Neill has done a magnificent job as Northern Ireland manager Credit: Getty Images "They're obviously the seeded team, so the pressure's more on them than us. "We're always great as the underdogs, so I think it was a bit of a bonus us not being seeded. "If you're seeded, you get a little more pressure on yourself so we'll go into this game as underdogs again. Hopefully we can be worthy winners. "We'd love something heading over there. I think we're strong at home and you've seen that over the last few years. "If we play the way we can play, I don't see why we can't take a lead out there or at least a positive result." Should O'Neill's team find a way past the Swiss, they would end a 32-year exile from the World Cup finals and become the first Northern Irish side in history to make back-to-back major tournaments. With Wales and Scotland already out of the running, and the Republic of Ireland involved in their own play-off, Ward feels the Northern Irish are still not getting the recognition they warrant. "I think people see it as it's Northern Ireland and they've not done well for a long time, but on the other side they will go and buy players from the Republic squad," he added. "Premier League clubs are happy to do that. We're just as good as them, but it's obviously someone taking a risk or a chance on us and letting us prove we're worth playing at the next level."

Northern Ireland 0 Switzerland 1: Furious Corry Evans says penalty decision was 'even worse than the Thierry Henry v Ireland handball'

The good news for Northern Ireland is they still have another 90 minutes to try to put things right but they will travel to Basel for the second leg of this World Cup play-off on Sunday nursing an acute and indisputable sense of injustice. Switzerland were the better team but they owe their slender lead largely thanks to an alarmingly incompetent piece of officiating from Romanian referee Ovidiu Hategan that Michael O’Neill called the worst he had ever seen in international football and saw the biggest night of football in Belfast for 36 years descend into acrimony. “Staggering” and “bewildering” were two of the other words the livid Northern Ireland manager used to describe Hategan’s decision to penalise Corry Evans for a perceived handball, when in fact the ball had hit his back, and award the Swiss a penalty that Ricardo Rodriguez converted. To compound matters, Evans picked up a booking in the process and will now be suspended for the second leg and Hategan’s decision to book rather than send off Switzerland defender Fabian Schar for an awful, two footed lunge on Stuart Dallas in the fifth minute merely added insult to injury. Dallas struggled on before being substituted early in the second half and could also now miss the return game. What is it about the Irish, handballs and World Cup play-offs? Few across the border in Ireland have forgotten about Thierry Henry’s unpunished handball in the lead up to the goal from William Gallas that controversially sent France to the 2010 World Cup finals. Steven Davis of Northern Ireland and Granit Xhaka of Switzerland battle for possession Credit: Getty Images And if Hategan’s ineptitude is not to play a crucial role in taking Switzerland to Russia, Northern Ireland will have to make history. No team has ever lost the first leg of a World Cup play-off at home and retrieved the situation. They must also overcome a side that has not lost a competitive home match for over three years. "It was actually a worse decision (than Thierry Henry's handball) because the ref has made a call that was not there," Jonny Evans, Corry's brother, said Asked if he had seen a poorer decision from a referee, O’Neill said: “Well certainly not in any of the games that I have been involved in, particularly at this level, no. I am not in a position to say the referee is incompetent but it’s just staggering in this day and age when the stakes are so high that something like that is a game changer. “The ball clearly strikes Corry on the back and the referee has a clear view of the incident. I thought he had given an offside or something. I spent three hours in a video conference with Fifa the other week on video assistant referees (VAR) and certainly when you see what happened tonight you would be an advocate of it.” AR will be trialled for the first time in an official game in the UK in England’s friendly against Germany at Wembley on Friday evening although a fat lot of good that does Northern Ireland. In truth, though, help and video replays should not have been required in this instance, and when Hategan did point to the spot, the only surprise greater than that on the faces of the players was that the assistant referee did not intervene and explain to Hategan the error of his ways. Rodriguez gets a pass away down the Switzerland left  Xherdan Shaqiri’s reaction after rifling a volley at Evans, who was standing only a few yards away, was telling in itself. There was no appeal for a penalty from the Stoke playmaker who, like most others, had seen Evans turn his back on the shot and watch it deflect off the upper back part of his shoulder and away. “It was disgraceful,” Evans said. “I clearly didn’t put my hand up. I know it him me on the back of the shoulder and I’m just absolutely gutted. He’s booked me which means I’m out of the second leg as well which is devastating.” Just as Northern Ireland cannot allow anger to ruin their focus in Basel, though – O’Neill talked about channeling that rage – so they will have to perform better than they did here. Northern Ireland vs Switzerland shots on goal Switzerland created the better chances and looked the superior side, although Northern Ireland’s reaction after the penalty was impressive. However, for large periods of the first half they were sucked deeper and deeper and rode their luck, as they did at times before Rodriguez scored. Haris Seferovic should have scored in the 17th minute. Shaqiri played a sublime raking pass on the turn over the head of Gareth McAuley and into the path of the Benfica striker, who stuck out a foot and poked the ball towards the far corner which Michael McGovern managed to get his fingertips to. Jonny Evans had earlier made a terrific block to deny Blerim Dzemaili, who later provided a cross that Seferovic narrowly failed to reach as it zipped across the face of the goal. Northern Ireland’s best hope of a goal looked to be from a set-piece but they wasted a series of good dead ball situations and Josh Magennis was guilty of sending a header wide from an inviting position from Chris Brunt’s free-kick. 9:36PM Full-time That's that. The full-time whistle goes and it finishes Northern Ireland 0 Switzerland 1.  Switzerland were much the better side, but their winning goal was never a penalty in a million years. The Swiss could also have been down to 10 men after a few minutes for Fabian Schar's reckless challenge on Stuart Dallas.  9:35PM 90+4 min Slightly comical moment here as Saville goes charging over to berate Lichtsteiner after the full-back goes down with cramp.  9:33PM 90+2 min Xhaka gives away a needless free-kick around 40 yards out. Brunt clips it in, but Switzerland hack the ball away.  9:31PM 90 min End to end stuff as Northern Ireland go flooding forward, which is leaving themselves open to the counter.  Four minutes of time added on... Northern Ireland vs Switzerland shots on goal 9:30PM 89 min Akanji was brought in to replace the injured Djourou tonight, and he's barely put a foot wrong. So quick and lots of clever interceptions.  9:28PM 87 min Final Swiss change as Mehmedi comes on for the very impressive Zuber.  9:27PM 86 min Saville bursts into the box and goes down under the challenge of Xhaka. The crowd scream for a penalty, but it's an excellent tackle with the ball won cleanly. Even Gerry Armstrong accepts the decision!  9:25PM 85 min Still no shots on target from NI, who have really lacked quality in the final third tonight.  Northern Ireland vs Switzerland shots on goal 9:25PM 84 min Penalty shout for Northern Ireland as Magennis' header hits Rodriguez from close in, but it's his chest rather than his hand.  Switzerland make another change, as Frei comes on for Dzemaili.  9:22PM 81 min NI asking questions of their opponents with a flurry of long throws, but Switzerland are holding firm at the moment.  9:19PM 78 min Switzerland make their first change - Embolo on for Seferovic.  NI make their last change - Washington on for Lafferty.  9:14PM 74 min Lafferty wins another free-kick for his team, and this time it's within shooting distance. It's a few yards to the right, so well set up for Brunt's left foot - about 25 yards out. Brunt goes for power, but it's wide of the far post.   9:13PM 71 min Best chance of the night for NI, and unsurprisingly it came from a set play. Brunt curls in an absolute peach from the right, but Magennis nods a free header wide. Huge opportunity gone.  Michael O'Neill tries to get his team going  9:10PM 69 min The visitors are going for the kill, but Shaqiri can't get enough on his pull-back and McGovern gratefully gathers.  9:08PM 67 min  Switzerland stroking the ball around comfortably, as they've done for much of the game.  Possession: Northern Ireland vs Switzerland 9:06PM 65 min Another NI change - Corry Evans off for the Millwall midfielder George Saville.  9:05PM 64 min  Ward, whose been a ball of energy since coming on, is booked for a late challenge on Lichtsteiner.  9:03PM 62 min A very old-school chant of "The referee's a w*****" rings around Windsor Park.  9:02PM 60 min Corry Evans meanwhile picked up a booking for that 'handball', and he'll be suspended for the second leg. Gerry Armstrong is absolutely raging about the decision! It did look harsh to be fair.  Evans was so close to Shaqiri and I'm not sure it even hit his hand!  8:59PM GOAL! Northern Ireland 0 Switzerland 1 (Rodriguez 58') Rodriguez sweeps the ball into the bottom right-hand corner with his left foot, sending McGovern the wrong way.  Northern Ireland 0 - 1 Switzerland (Ricardo Rodríguez, 58 min) 8:58PM 57 min Penalty Switzerland! Shaqiri's volley is blocked by Corry Evans, and the referee deems it as handball. That looks very harsh given how close Evans was to Shaqiri when he made the block.  8:57PM 56 min Oh my, Switzerland are inches away from taking the lead. Dzemaili fizzes a low cross that is just in front of Seferovic, who would have had a tap in from a couple of yards out. Switzerland can't believe they haven't scored.  8:54PM 53 min Shaqiri has a go from about 30 yards, but I'm not exaggerating when I say it's closer to flying out of the stadium than hitting the back of the net. Switzerland running out of ideas?  8:53PM 52 min The rain is flying down now, and it's pathetic fallacy for Dallas, who looks gutted to be replaced by Nottingham Forest winger Jamie Ward.  8:51PM 49 min Dallas is still on, but he's really not moving freely. Come on pal, think it's time to go off.  8:48PM 46 min That is mighty close for Switzerland. Brunt misses Rodriguez's cross, and the ball falls to Shaqiri on the edge of the box. The Stoke man cuts inside and curls a beauty of a shot that just tickles the crossbar as it floats agonisingly too high. NI living extremely dangerously.  8:47PM 46 min We're back underway. Dallas is back out for NI despite that ankle knock.  8:41PM Deadlock Lots of Swiss probing, plenty of dogged Northern Irish defending, and a whole lot of nothing on the scoreboard. Lichtsteiner, Zakaria and Zuber have all impressed for Switzerland, while Jonny Evans has been a rock at the back for the hosts.   The main talking point has been whether Schar should have been sent off for clattering into Dallas. It's a call that really could have gone either way, and isn't that interesting to keep poring over. Northern Ireland vs Switzerland shots on goal 8:31PM Half-time Switzerland well on top, but it's goalless at the break.  8:30PM 45 min Very nearly for Switzerland, but Lichtsteiner slips as he tries to latch onto Seferovic's flick-on. The full-back was clean through if he'd kept his feet.  Possession: Northern Ireland vs Switzerland 8:27PM 43 min Shaqiri and Lichtsteiner are so dangerous in tandem down the Swiss right, but it's brilliant defensive work by Jonny Evans to block the right back's cross after the pair had linked up once again.  8:26PM 42 min Dallas is back on, but wincing in pain. He actually manages to get on the ball straight away and dig out a cross, but it's badly misplaced.  8:25PM 41 min Real shame for Northern Ireland. Dallas has not recovered from getting clobbered by Schar early on, and he's surely going to have to be replaced. Gerry Armstrong is insistent that it should have been a red card. Personally I think that would have been a touch harsh.  8:23PM 38 min NI try their luck with another long throw, and Lafferty feels he was pushed in the area by Schar as he tried to get on the end of it. Nothing really in that though.  8:20PM 35 min Zakaria in the centre of midfield is really having an excellent game and making his presence felt. He and Xhaka are running the show at the moment. Seferovic meanwhile heads Lichtsteiner's cross well off target.  8:16PM 31 min Switzerland counter at break-neck speed and eventually win a free-kick down the left. Xhaka whips it in, and it's a good one, but Evans manages to head it away.  Northern Ireland vs Switzerland shots on goal 8:14PM 29 min Some respite for Northern Ireland as they force Switzerland into a few clever headed clearances from some hoiked crosses into the box.  8:12PM 27 min Switzerland are putting together some lovely passing moves, but as yet they can't quite make a breakthrough. To give you an idea of how the game is panning out - Switzerland have made 162 passes to Northern Ireland's 53.  8:09PM 23 min Lichtsteiner once more comes flying forward down the right and he digs out a cross that Zuber can't quite get a good connection on. All Switzerland at the moment.  8:06PM 20 min We probably knew this already but for NI to qualify, Switzerland are going to have to be extremely wasteful over the two legs. The visitors look like creating chances pretty much every time they go forward.  8:04PM 18 min Yeah this is a really strong period for Switzerland. Lichtsteiner is again in lots of space down the right, and his low pinpoint cross is cleared by McAuley. Moments later Shaqiri picks out Seferovic with a beautiful diagonal, but the striker's hooked volley is well saved by McGovern. Backs to the wall stuff from Northern Ireland.  Attempt Saved: Northern Ireland 0 - 0 Switzerland (Haris Seferovic, 18 min) 8:01PM 17 min Switzerland offer a real threat down both flanks, and this time it's down the right where they make hay. Lichtsteiner bombs forward and clips in a lovely cross that just evades Zuber.  7:59PM 14 min NI look most dangerous from set pieces, and a high ball into the box is met well by McAuley before Lafferty has a volley deflected wide. The resulting corner is headed over by Jonny Evans from about 10 yards out. Not an easy chance.  7:58PM 12 min Zubrr does brilliantly down the left - he looks a real handful - and he picks out Xhaka around 25 yards from goal. Again though the Arsenal man is off target with a left-footed curler.  Miss: Northern Ireland 0 - 0 Switzerland (Granit Xhaka, 12 min) 7:55PM 9 min Switzerland enjoy a good period and create a couple of decent chances. First Dzemaili has a shot blocked inside the area before Xhaka fires over from the edge of the box. The pressure is really building for Switzerland here.  7:52PM 6 min Brunt hoists in the resulting free-kick, which is headed clear by Xhaka. That Dallas break incidentally came from a misplaced Xhaka pass.  7:50PM 5 min Schar picks up an early booking for a really bad tackle on Dallas. He went absolutely flying into the Northern Ireland forward as he broke clear down the left.  7:48PM 4 min Lafferty stabs a volley well wide from another Magennis cross as NI try and keep the pressure up in the early stages.  7:47PM 3 min The noise really is deafening, and the stadium is awash with green and white. Magennis does well down the right and whips a cross in, but it's well cleared by the Swiss defence. Real up and at 'em start from the hosts.  7:45PM Kick-off We're under way. A reminder of the teams - Michael O'Neill has opted for Kyle Lafferty up front ahead of Conor Washington.  Northern Ireland (4-3-3): McGovern; McLaughlin, McAuley, J Evans, Brunt; Norwood, C Evans, Davis; Magennis, Lafferty, Dallas. Switzerland (4-2-3-1): Sommer; Lichtsteiner, Akanji, Schar, Rodriguez; Xhaka, Zakaria; Shaqiri, Dzemaili, Zuber; Seferovic. 7:43PM What a noise The anthems are belted out, and Steven Davis is presented with a trophy to mark him winning his 100th NI cap. I feel I'm contractually obliged to describe this as a 'nice touch'.  7:39PM Fortress Windsor NI have won nine of their last 11 home matches, and the atmosphere at Windsor Park is absolutely electric. Teams are in the tunnel about to come out... 7:19PM On a tightrope Steven Davis, Jonny Evans, Corry Evans, Stuart Dallas, Oliver Norwood and Josh Magennis are all one yellow card away from a suspension that would rule them out of the second leg. 7:11PM What's been said Northern Ireland ended a 30-year wait for a finals appearance as they reached Euro 2016 and Josh Magennis, 27, wants to again experience the wave of emotion which greeted that achievement. "We didn't realise the magnitude of [qualifying for] France until we were here about to go and social media-wise and media-wise, it was just everywhere. "What it did for the country, not just ourselves, was basically unite people for about a month. It was absolutely massive." Northern Ireland captain Steven Davis, who is set to win his 100th cap, says his side must get their midfield balance right at Windsor Park. "From seeing some early analysis of them, they're clearly very comfortable in possession," said the Northern Ireland skipper. "It's going to be a difficult game. If you look at their results in qualifying, they were very unfortunate not to qualify automatically for the World Cup.  Steve Davis wins his 100th cap on Thursday night "The biggest thing for us is going to be getting that balance right, between pressing and cutting off the lines for them to play through. "If we can do that, we know we've got the quality to hurt them, and there are weaknesses we can exploit." 6:58PM Preamble Evening all, Can Northern Ireland take a big step tonight towards ending 31 years of hurt by qualifying for their first World Cup since 1986? Standing in their way are Switzerland, who have qualified for the previous three World Cups and are a little miffed to be in the playoffs having taken 27 points from their 10 group matches. In fact they're probably feeling a bit like someone who's just smashed a job interview only to be told "sorry, we had the absolutely perfect candidate come in after you".  But anyway, enough of my employment history, here the Swiss are at Windsor Park where they will be up against the formidable Northern Irish rearguard that kept seven clean sheets in 10 qualifying matches.  The West Brom pair of Gareth McAuley and Jonny Evans are the defensive bedrock of the side, while further forward Steven Davis will provide the dynamism and energy from midfield as he earns his 100th international cap.  Up front, Kyle Lafferty (one of those David Healy/Miroslav Klose types who is far better at international than club level) and Josh Magennis will look to unsettle the Swiss back four, which is without former Arsenal centre-back Johan Djourou. Current Arsenal midfielder Granit Xhaka will pull the strings for Switzerland tonight, while Xherdan Shaqiri will be tasked with providing the creative spark.  Juventus's Stephan Lichtsteiner and AC Milan's Ricardo Rodriguez will offer width and an attacking threat from the full-back positions.  My prediction for what it's worth is Northern Ireland 0 Switzerland 1.  6:51PM Teams are in  Northern Ireland:McGovern, McLaughlin, McAuley, J Evans, Brunt, Norwood , C Evans, Davis, Magennis, Lafferty, Dallas Switzerland: Sommer, Lichtsteiner, Schär, Akanji, Rodríguez, Xhaka, Zakaria, Shaqiri, Dzemaili, Zuber, Seferovic 6:06PM Preview - Fighting talk from Ward We'll be back at 6.45pm with the team news and then the build-up to tonight's World Cup play-off, but before then here's a wee preview from our pals at the Press Association.  Jamie Ward has cranked up the pressure on Switzerland by telling them Northern Ireland will thrive as the underdogs in their World Cup play-off. The Northern Irish missed out on being seeded for the draw last month by virtue of their world ranking, so knew they would face either the Swiss, Italy, Croatia or Denmark over two legs to determine their Russia fate. Nottingham Forest forward Ward, back in Michael O'Neill's fold for the first time since March having overcome a calf problem, had no qualms with that and has told Switzerland they have to handle the expectation. Vladimir Petkovic's team arrived in Belfast on Tuesday ahead of Thursday's first leg, and Ward said: "They've got to take their chances. Everyone is expecting them to win in the football world. Michael O'Neill has done a magnificent job as Northern Ireland manager Credit: Getty Images "They're obviously the seeded team, so the pressure's more on them than us. "We're always great as the underdogs, so I think it was a bit of a bonus us not being seeded. "If you're seeded, you get a little more pressure on yourself so we'll go into this game as underdogs again. Hopefully we can be worthy winners. "We'd love something heading over there. I think we're strong at home and you've seen that over the last few years. "If we play the way we can play, I don't see why we can't take a lead out there or at least a positive result." Should O'Neill's team find a way past the Swiss, they would end a 32-year exile from the World Cup finals and become the first Northern Irish side in history to make back-to-back major tournaments. With Wales and Scotland already out of the running, and the Republic of Ireland involved in their own play-off, Ward feels the Northern Irish are still not getting the recognition they warrant. "I think people see it as it's Northern Ireland and they've not done well for a long time, but on the other side they will go and buy players from the Republic squad," he added. "Premier League clubs are happy to do that. We're just as good as them, but it's obviously someone taking a risk or a chance on us and letting us prove we're worth playing at the next level."

Northern Ireland vs Switzerland: Live score updates 

  9:19PM 78 min Switzerland make their first change - Embolo on for Seferovic.  NI make their last change - Washington on for Lafferty.  9:14PM 74 min Lafferty wins another free-kick for his team, and this time it's within shooting distance. It's a few yards to the right, so well set up for Brunt's left foot - about 25 yards out. Brunt goes for power, but it's wide of the far post.   9:13PM 71 min Best chance of the night for NI, and unsurprisingly it came from a set play. Brunt curls in an absolute peach from the right, but Magennis nods a free header wide. Huge opportunity gone.  Michael O'Neill tries to get his team going  9:10PM 69 min The visitors are going for the kill, but Shaqiri can't get enough on his pull-back and McGovern gratefully gathers.  9:08PM 67 min  Switzerland stroking the ball around comfortably, as they've done for much of the game.  Possession: Northern Ireland vs Switzerland 9:06PM 65 min Another NI change - Corry Evans off for the Millwall midfielder George Saville.  9:05PM 64 min  Ward, whose been a ball of energy since coming on, is booked for a late challenge on Lichtsteiner.  9:03PM 62 min A very old-school chant of "The referee's a w*****" rings around Windsor Park.  9:02PM 60 min Corry Evans meanwhile picked up a booking for that 'handball', and he'll be suspended for the second leg. Gerry Armstrong is absolutely raging about the decision! It did look harsh to be fair.  Evans was so close to Shaqiri and I'm not sure it even hit his hand!  8:59PM GOAL! Northern Ireland 0 Switzerland 1 (Rodriguez 58') Rodriguez sweeps the ball into the bottom right-hand corner with his left foot, sending McGovern the wrong way.  Northern Ireland 0 - 1 Switzerland (Ricardo Rodríguez, 58 min) 8:58PM 57 min Penalty Switzerland! Shaqiri's volley is blocked by Corry Evans, and the referee deems it as handball. That looks very harsh given how close Evans was to Shaqiri when he made the block.  8:57PM 56 min Oh my, Switzerland are inches away from taking the lead. Dzemaili fizzes a low cross that is just in front of Seferovic, who would have had a tap in from a couple of yards out. Switzerland can't believe they haven't scored.  8:54PM 53 min Shaqiri has a go from about 30 yards, but I'm not exaggerating when I say it's closer to flying out of the stadium than hitting the back of the net. Switzerland running out of ideas?  8:53PM 52 min The rain is flying down now, and it's pathetic fallacy for Dallas, who looks gutted to be replaced by Nottingham Forest winger Jamie Ward.  8:51PM 49 min Dallas is still on, but he's really not moving freely. Come on pal, think it's time to go off.  8:48PM 46 min That is mighty close for Switzerland. Brunt misses Rodriguez's cross, and the ball falls to Shaqiri on the edge of the box. The Stoke man cuts inside and curls a beauty of a shot that just tickles the crossbar as it floats agonisingly too high. NI living extremely dangerously.  8:47PM 46 min We're back underway. Dallas is back out for NI despite that ankle knock.  8:41PM Deadlock Lots of Swiss probing, plenty of dogged Northern Irish defending, and a whole lot of nothing on the scoreboard. Lichtsteiner, Zakaria and Zuber have all impressed for Switzerland, while Jonny Evans has been a rock at the back for the hosts.   The main talking point has been whether Schar should have been sent off for clattering into Dallas. It's a call that really could have gone either way, and isn't that interesting to keep poring over. Northern Ireland vs Switzerland shots on goal 8:31PM Half-time Switzerland well on top, but it's goalless at the break.  8:30PM 45 min Very nearly for Switzerland, but Lichtsteiner slips as he tries to latch onto Seferovic's flick-on. The full-back was clean through if he'd kept his feet.  Possession: Northern Ireland vs Switzerland 8:27PM 43 min Shaqiri and Lichtsteiner are so dangerous in tandem down the Swiss right, but it's brilliant defensive work by Jonny Evans to block the right back's cross after the pair had linked up once again.  8:26PM 42 min Dallas is back on, but wincing in pain. He actually manages to get on the ball straight away and dig out a cross, but it's badly misplaced.  8:25PM 41 min Real shame for Northern Ireland. Dallas has not recovered from getting clobbered by Schar early on, and he's surely going to have to be replaced. Gerry Armstrong is insistent that it should have been a red card. Personally I think that would have been a touch harsh.  8:23PM 38 min NI try their luck with another long throw, and Lafferty feels he was pushed in the area by Schar as he tried to get on the end of it. Nothing really in that though.  8:20PM 35 min Zakaria in the centre of midfield is really having an excellent game and making his presence felt. He and Xhaka are running the show at the moment. Seferovic meanwhile heads Lichtsteiner's cross well off target.  8:16PM 31 min Switzerland counter at break-neck speed and eventually win a free-kick down the left. Xhaka whips it in, and it's a good one, but Evans manages to head it away.  Northern Ireland vs Switzerland shots on goal 8:14PM 29 min Some respite for Northern Ireland as they force Switzerland into a few clever headed clearances from some hoiked crosses into the box.  8:12PM 27 min Switzerland are putting together some lovely passing moves, but as yet they can't quite make a breakthrough. To give you an idea of how the game is panning out - Switzerland have made 162 passes to Northern Ireland's 53.  8:09PM 23 min Lichtsteiner once more comes flying forward down the right and he digs out a cross that Zuber can't quite get a good connection on. All Switzerland at the moment.  8:06PM 20 min We probably knew this already but for NI to qualify, Switzerland are going to have to be extremely wasteful over the two legs. The visitors look like creating chances pretty much every time they go forward.  8:04PM 18 min Yeah this is a really strong period for Switzerland. Lichtsteiner is again in lots of space down the right, and his low pinpoint cross is cleared by McAuley. Moments later Shaqiri picks out Seferovic with a beautiful diagonal, but the striker's hooked volley is well saved by McGovern. Backs to the wall stuff from Northern Ireland.  Attempt Saved: Northern Ireland 0 - 0 Switzerland (Haris Seferovic, 18 min) 8:01PM 17 min Switzerland offer a real threat down both flanks, and this time it's down the right where they make hay. Lichtsteiner bombs forward and clips in a lovely cross that just evades Zuber.  7:59PM 14 min NI look most dangerous from set pieces, and a high ball into the box is met well by McAuley before Lafferty has a volley deflected wide. The resulting corner is headed over by Jonny Evans from about 10 yards out. Not an easy chance.  7:58PM 12 min Zubrr does brilliantly down the left - he looks a real handful - and he picks out Xhaka around 25 yards from goal. Again though the Arsenal man is off target with a left-footed curler.  Miss: Northern Ireland 0 - 0 Switzerland (Granit Xhaka, 12 min) 7:55PM 9 min Switzerland enjoy a good period and create a couple of decent chances. First Dzemaili has a shot blocked inside the area before Xhaka fires over from the edge of the box. The pressure is really building for Switzerland here.  7:52PM 6 min Brunt hoists in the resulting free-kick, which is headed clear by Xhaka. That Dallas break incidentally came from a misplaced Xhaka pass.  7:50PM 5 min Schar picks up an early booking for a really bad tackle on Dallas. He went absolutely flying into the Northern Ireland forward as he broke clear down the left.  7:48PM 4 min Lafferty stabs a volley well wide from another Magennis cross as NI try and keep the pressure up in the early stages.  7:47PM 3 min The noise really is deafening, and the stadium is awash with green and white. Magennis does well down the right and whips a cross in, but it's well cleared by the Swiss defence. Real up and at 'em start from the hosts.  7:45PM Kick-off We're under way. A reminder of the teams - Michael O'Neill has opted for Kyle Lafferty up front ahead of Conor Washington.  Northern Ireland (4-3-3): McGovern; McLaughlin, McAuley, J Evans, Brunt; Norwood, C Evans, Davis; Magennis, Lafferty, Dallas. Switzerland (4-2-3-1): Sommer; Lichtsteiner, Akanji, Schar, Rodriguez; Xhaka, Zakaria; Shaqiri, Dzemaili, Zuber; Seferovic. 7:43PM What a noise The anthems are belted out, and Steven Davis is presented with a trophy to mark him winning his 100th NI cap. I feel I'm contractually obliged to describe this as a 'nice touch'.  7:39PM Fortress Windsor NI have won nine of their last 11 home matches, and the atmosphere at Windsor Park is absolutely electric. Teams are in the tunnel about to come out... 7:19PM On a tightrope Steven Davis, Jonny Evans, Corry Evans, Stuart Dallas, Oliver Norwood and Josh Magennis are all one yellow card away from a suspension that would rule them out of the second leg. 7:11PM What's been said Northern Ireland ended a 30-year wait for a finals appearance as they reached Euro 2016 and Josh Magennis, 27, wants to again experience the wave of emotion which greeted that achievement. "We didn't realise the magnitude of [qualifying for] France until we were here about to go and social media-wise and media-wise, it was just everywhere. "What it did for the country, not just ourselves, was basically unite people for about a month. It was absolutely massive." Northern Ireland captain Steven Davis, who is set to win his 100th cap, says his side must get their midfield balance right at Windsor Park. "From seeing some early analysis of them, they're clearly very comfortable in possession," said the Northern Ireland skipper. "It's going to be a difficult game. If you look at their results in qualifying, they were very unfortunate not to qualify automatically for the World Cup.  Steve Davis wins his 100th cap on Thursday night "The biggest thing for us is going to be getting that balance right, between pressing and cutting off the lines for them to play through. "If we can do that, we know we've got the quality to hurt them, and there are weaknesses we can exploit." 6:58PM Preamble Evening all, Can Northern Ireland take a big step tonight towards ending 31 years of hurt by qualifying for their first World Cup since 1986? Standing in their way are Switzerland, who have qualified for the previous three World Cups and are a little miffed to be in the playoffs having taken 27 points from their 10 group matches. In fact they're probably feeling a bit like someone who's just smashed a job interview only to be told "sorry, we had the absolutely perfect candidate come in after you".  But anyway, enough of my employment history, here the Swiss are at Windsor Park where they will be up against the formidable Northern Irish rearguard that kept seven clean sheets in 10 qualifying matches.  The West Brom pair of Gareth McAuley and Jonny Evans are the defensive bedrock of the side, while further forward Steven Davis will provide the dynamism and energy from midfield as he earns his 100th international cap.  Up front, Kyle Lafferty (one of those David Healy/Miroslav Klose types who is far better at international than club level) and Josh Magennis will look to unsettle the Swiss back four, which is without former Arsenal centre-back Johan Djourou. Current Arsenal midfielder Granit Xhaka will pull the strings for Switzerland tonight, while Xherdan Shaqiri will be tasked with providing the creative spark.  Juventus's Stephan Lichtsteiner and AC Milan's Ricardo Rodriguez will offer width and an attacking threat from the full-back positions.  My prediction for what it's worth is Northern Ireland 0 Switzerland 1.  6:51PM Teams are in  Northern Ireland:McGovern, McLaughlin, McAuley, J Evans, Brunt, Norwood , C Evans, Davis, Magennis, Lafferty, Dallas Switzerland: Sommer, Lichtsteiner, Schär, Akanji, Rodríguez, Xhaka, Zakaria, Shaqiri, Dzemaili, Zuber, Seferovic 6:06PM Preview - Fighting talk from Ward We'll be back at 6.45pm with the team news and then the build-up to tonight's World Cup play-off, but before then here's a wee preview from our pals at the Press Association.  Jamie Ward has cranked up the pressure on Switzerland by telling them Northern Ireland will thrive as the underdogs in their World Cup play-off. The Northern Irish missed out on being seeded for the draw last month by virtue of their world ranking, so knew they would face either the Swiss, Italy, Croatia or Denmark over two legs to determine their Russia fate. Nottingham Forest forward Ward, back in Michael O'Neill's fold for the first time since March having overcome a calf problem, had no qualms with that and has told Switzerland they have to handle the expectation. Vladimir Petkovic's team arrived in Belfast on Tuesday ahead of Thursday's first leg, and Ward said: "They've got to take their chances. Everyone is expecting them to win in the football world. Michael O'Neill has done a magnificent job as Northern Ireland manager Credit: Getty Images "They're obviously the seeded team, so the pressure's more on them than us. "We're always great as the underdogs, so I think it was a bit of a bonus us not being seeded. "If you're seeded, you get a little more pressure on yourself so we'll go into this game as underdogs again. Hopefully we can be worthy winners. "We'd love something heading over there. I think we're strong at home and you've seen that over the last few years. "If we play the way we can play, I don't see why we can't take a lead out there or at least a positive result." Should O'Neill's team find a way past the Swiss, they would end a 32-year exile from the World Cup finals and become the first Northern Irish side in history to make back-to-back major tournaments. With Wales and Scotland already out of the running, and the Republic of Ireland involved in their own play-off, Ward feels the Northern Irish are still not getting the recognition they warrant. "I think people see it as it's Northern Ireland and they've not done well for a long time, but on the other side they will go and buy players from the Republic squad," he added. "Premier League clubs are happy to do that. We're just as good as them, but it's obviously someone taking a risk or a chance on us and letting us prove we're worth playing at the next level."

Northern Ireland vs Switzerland: Live score updates 

  9:14PM 74 min Lafferty wins another free-kick for his team, and this time it's within shooting distance. It's a few yards to the right, so well set up for Brunt's left foot - about 25 yards out. Brunt goes for power, but it's wide of the far post.   9:13PM 71 min Best chance of the night for NI, and unsurprisingly it came from a set play. Brunt curls in an absolute peach from the right, but Magennis nods a free header wide. Huge opportunity gone.  Michael O'Neill tries to get his team going  9:10PM 69 min The visitors are going for the kill, but Shaqiri can't get enough on his pull-back and McGovern gratefully gathers.  9:08PM 67 min  Switzerland stroking the ball around comfortably, as they've done for much of the game.  Possession: Northern Ireland vs Switzerland 9:06PM 65 min Another NI change - Corry Evans off for the Millwall midfielder George Saville.  9:05PM 64 min  Ward, whose been a ball of energy since coming on, is booked for a late challenge on Lichtsteiner.  9:03PM 62 min A very old-school chant of "The referee's a w*****" rings around Windsor Park.  9:02PM 60 min Corry Evans meanwhile picked up a booking for that 'handball', and he'll be suspended for the second leg. Gerry Armstrong is absolutely raging about the decision! It did look harsh to be fair.  Evans was so close to Shaqiri and I'm not sure it even hit his hand!  8:59PM GOAL! Northern Ireland 0 Switzerland 1 (Rodriguez 58') Rodriguez sweeps the ball into the bottom right-hand corner with his left foot, sending McGovern the wrong way.  Northern Ireland 0 - 1 Switzerland (Ricardo Rodríguez, 58 min) 8:58PM 57 min Penalty Switzerland! Shaqiri's volley is blocked by Corry Evans, and the referee deems it as handball. That looks very harsh given how close Evans was to Shaqiri when he made the block.  8:57PM 56 min Oh my, Switzerland are inches away from taking the lead. Dzemaili fizzes a low cross that is just in front of Seferovic, who would have had a tap in from a couple of yards out. Switzerland can't believe they haven't scored.  8:54PM 53 min Shaqiri has a go from about 30 yards, but I'm not exaggerating when I say it's closer to flying out of the stadium than hitting the back of the net. Switzerland running out of ideas?  8:53PM 52 min The rain is flying down now, and it's pathetic fallacy for Dallas, who looks gutted to be replaced by Nottingham Forest winger Jamie Ward.  8:51PM 49 min Dallas is still on, but he's really not moving freely. Come on pal, think it's time to go off.  8:48PM 46 min That is mighty close for Switzerland. Brunt misses Rodriguez's cross, and the ball falls to Shaqiri on the edge of the box. The Stoke man cuts inside and curls a beauty of a shot that just tickles the crossbar as it floats agonisingly too high. NI living extremely dangerously.  8:47PM 46 min We're back underway. Dallas is back out for NI despite that ankle knock.  8:41PM Deadlock Lots of Swiss probing, plenty of dogged Northern Irish defending, and a whole lot of nothing on the scoreboard. Lichtsteiner, Zakaria and Zuber have all impressed for Switzerland, while Jonny Evans has been a rock at the back for the hosts.   The main talking point has been whether Schar should have been sent off for clattering into Dallas. It's a call that really could have gone either way, and isn't that interesting to keep poring over. Northern Ireland vs Switzerland shots on goal 8:31PM Half-time Switzerland well on top, but it's goalless at the break.  8:30PM 45 min Very nearly for Switzerland, but Lichtsteiner slips as he tries to latch onto Seferovic's flick-on. The full-back was clean through if he'd kept his feet.  Possession: Northern Ireland vs Switzerland 8:27PM 43 min Shaqiri and Lichtsteiner are so dangerous in tandem down the Swiss right, but it's brilliant defensive work by Jonny Evans to block the right back's cross after the pair had linked up once again.  8:26PM 42 min Dallas is back on, but wincing in pain. He actually manages to get on the ball straight away and dig out a cross, but it's badly misplaced.  8:25PM 41 min Real shame for Northern Ireland. Dallas has not recovered from getting clobbered by Schar early on, and he's surely going to have to be replaced. Gerry Armstrong is insistent that it should have been a red card. Personally I think that would have been a touch harsh.  8:23PM 38 min NI try their luck with another long throw, and Lafferty feels he was pushed in the area by Schar as he tried to get on the end of it. Nothing really in that though.  8:20PM 35 min Zakaria in the centre of midfield is really having an excellent game and making his presence felt. He and Xhaka are running the show at the moment. Seferovic meanwhile heads Lichtsteiner's cross well off target.  8:16PM 31 min Switzerland counter at break-neck speed and eventually win a free-kick down the left. Xhaka whips it in, and it's a good one, but Evans manages to head it away.  Northern Ireland vs Switzerland shots on goal 8:14PM 29 min Some respite for Northern Ireland as they force Switzerland into a few clever headed clearances from some hoiked crosses into the box.  8:12PM 27 min Switzerland are putting together some lovely passing moves, but as yet they can't quite make a breakthrough. To give you an idea of how the game is panning out - Switzerland have made 162 passes to Northern Ireland's 53.  8:09PM 23 min Lichtsteiner once more comes flying forward down the right and he digs out a cross that Zuber can't quite get a good connection on. All Switzerland at the moment.  8:06PM 20 min We probably knew this already but for NI to qualify, Switzerland are going to have to be extremely wasteful over the two legs. The visitors look like creating chances pretty much every time they go forward.  8:04PM 18 min Yeah this is a really strong period for Switzerland. Lichtsteiner is again in lots of space down the right, and his low pinpoint cross is cleared by McAuley. Moments later Shaqiri picks out Seferovic with a beautiful diagonal, but the striker's hooked volley is well saved by McGovern. Backs to the wall stuff from Northern Ireland.  Attempt Saved: Northern Ireland 0 - 0 Switzerland (Haris Seferovic, 18 min) 8:01PM 17 min Switzerland offer a real threat down both flanks, and this time it's down the right where they make hay. Lichtsteiner bombs forward and clips in a lovely cross that just evades Zuber.  7:59PM 14 min NI look most dangerous from set pieces, and a high ball into the box is met well by McAuley before Lafferty has a volley deflected wide. The resulting corner is headed over by Jonny Evans from about 10 yards out. Not an easy chance.  7:58PM 12 min Zubrr does brilliantly down the left - he looks a real handful - and he picks out Xhaka around 25 yards from goal. Again though the Arsenal man is off target with a left-footed curler.  Miss: Northern Ireland 0 - 0 Switzerland (Granit Xhaka, 12 min) 7:55PM 9 min Switzerland enjoy a good period and create a couple of decent chances. First Dzemaili has a shot blocked inside the area before Xhaka fires over from the edge of the box. The pressure is really building for Switzerland here.  7:52PM 6 min Brunt hoists in the resulting free-kick, which is headed clear by Xhaka. That Dallas break incidentally came from a misplaced Xhaka pass.  7:50PM 5 min Schar picks up an early booking for a really bad tackle on Dallas. He went absolutely flying into the Northern Ireland forward as he broke clear down the left.  7:48PM 4 min Lafferty stabs a volley well wide from another Magennis cross as NI try and keep the pressure up in the early stages.  7:47PM 3 min The noise really is deafening, and the stadium is awash with green and white. Magennis does well down the right and whips a cross in, but it's well cleared by the Swiss defence. Real up and at 'em start from the hosts.  7:45PM Kick-off We're under way. A reminder of the teams - Michael O'Neill has opted for Kyle Lafferty up front ahead of Conor Washington.  Northern Ireland (4-3-3): McGovern; McLaughlin, McAuley, J Evans, Brunt; Norwood, C Evans, Davis; Magennis, Lafferty, Dallas. Switzerland (4-2-3-1): Sommer; Lichtsteiner, Akanji, Schar, Rodriguez; Xhaka, Zakaria; Shaqiri, Dzemaili, Zuber; Seferovic. 7:43PM What a noise The anthems are belted out, and Steven Davis is presented with a trophy to mark him winning his 100th NI cap. I feel I'm contractually obliged to describe this as a 'nice touch'.  7:39PM Fortress Windsor NI have won nine of their last 11 home matches, and the atmosphere at Windsor Park is absolutely electric. Teams are in the tunnel about to come out... 7:19PM On a tightrope Steven Davis, Jonny Evans, Corry Evans, Stuart Dallas, Oliver Norwood and Josh Magennis are all one yellow card away from a suspension that would rule them out of the second leg. 7:11PM What's been said Northern Ireland ended a 30-year wait for a finals appearance as they reached Euro 2016 and Josh Magennis, 27, wants to again experience the wave of emotion which greeted that achievement. "We didn't realise the magnitude of [qualifying for] France until we were here about to go and social media-wise and media-wise, it was just everywhere. "What it did for the country, not just ourselves, was basically unite people for about a month. It was absolutely massive." Northern Ireland captain Steven Davis, who is set to win his 100th cap, says his side must get their midfield balance right at Windsor Park. "From seeing some early analysis of them, they're clearly very comfortable in possession," said the Northern Ireland skipper. "It's going to be a difficult game. If you look at their results in qualifying, they were very unfortunate not to qualify automatically for the World Cup.  Steve Davis wins his 100th cap on Thursday night "The biggest thing for us is going to be getting that balance right, between pressing and cutting off the lines for them to play through. "If we can do that, we know we've got the quality to hurt them, and there are weaknesses we can exploit." 6:58PM Preamble Evening all, Can Northern Ireland take a big step tonight towards ending 31 years of hurt by qualifying for their first World Cup since 1986? Standing in their way are Switzerland, who have qualified for the previous three World Cups and are a little miffed to be in the playoffs having taken 27 points from their 10 group matches. In fact they're probably feeling a bit like someone who's just smashed a job interview only to be told "sorry, we had the absolutely perfect candidate come in after you".  But anyway, enough of my employment history, here the Swiss are at Windsor Park where they will be up against the formidable Northern Irish rearguard that kept seven clean sheets in 10 qualifying matches.  The West Brom pair of Gareth McAuley and Jonny Evans are the defensive bedrock of the side, while further forward Steven Davis will provide the dynamism and energy from midfield as he earns his 100th international cap.  Up front, Kyle Lafferty (one of those David Healy/Miroslav Klose types who is far better at international than club level) and Josh Magennis will look to unsettle the Swiss back four, which is without former Arsenal centre-back Johan Djourou. Current Arsenal midfielder Granit Xhaka will pull the strings for Switzerland tonight, while Xherdan Shaqiri will be tasked with providing the creative spark.  Juventus's Stephan Lichtsteiner and AC Milan's Ricardo Rodriguez will offer width and an attacking threat from the full-back positions.  My prediction for what it's worth is Northern Ireland 0 Switzerland 1.  6:51PM Teams are in  Northern Ireland:McGovern, McLaughlin, McAuley, J Evans, Brunt, Norwood , C Evans, Davis, Magennis, Lafferty, Dallas Switzerland: Sommer, Lichtsteiner, Schär, Akanji, Rodríguez, Xhaka, Zakaria, Shaqiri, Dzemaili, Zuber, Seferovic 6:06PM Preview - Fighting talk from Ward We'll be back at 6.45pm with the team news and then the build-up to tonight's World Cup play-off, but before then here's a wee preview from our pals at the Press Association.  Jamie Ward has cranked up the pressure on Switzerland by telling them Northern Ireland will thrive as the underdogs in their World Cup play-off. The Northern Irish missed out on being seeded for the draw last month by virtue of their world ranking, so knew they would face either the Swiss, Italy, Croatia or Denmark over two legs to determine their Russia fate. Nottingham Forest forward Ward, back in Michael O'Neill's fold for the first time since March having overcome a calf problem, had no qualms with that and has told Switzerland they have to handle the expectation. Vladimir Petkovic's team arrived in Belfast on Tuesday ahead of Thursday's first leg, and Ward said: "They've got to take their chances. Everyone is expecting them to win in the football world. Michael O'Neill has done a magnificent job as Northern Ireland manager Credit: Getty Images "They're obviously the seeded team, so the pressure's more on them than us. "We're always great as the underdogs, so I think it was a bit of a bonus us not being seeded. "If you're seeded, you get a little more pressure on yourself so we'll go into this game as underdogs again. Hopefully we can be worthy winners. "We'd love something heading over there. I think we're strong at home and you've seen that over the last few years. "If we play the way we can play, I don't see why we can't take a lead out there or at least a positive result." Should O'Neill's team find a way past the Swiss, they would end a 32-year exile from the World Cup finals and become the first Northern Irish side in history to make back-to-back major tournaments. With Wales and Scotland already out of the running, and the Republic of Ireland involved in their own play-off, Ward feels the Northern Irish are still not getting the recognition they warrant. "I think people see it as it's Northern Ireland and they've not done well for a long time, but on the other side they will go and buy players from the Republic squad," he added. "Premier League clubs are happy to do that. We're just as good as them, but it's obviously someone taking a risk or a chance on us and letting us prove we're worth playing at the next level."

Northern Ireland vs Switzerland: Live score updates 

  8:16PM 31 min Switzerland counter at break-neck speed and eventually win a free-kick down the left. Xhaka whips it in, and it's a good one, but Evans manages to head it away.  8:14PM 29 min Some respite for Northern Ireland as they force Switzerland into a few clever headed clearances from some hoiked crosses into the box.  8:12PM 27 min Switzerland are putting together some lovely passing moves, but as yet they can't quite make a breakthrough. To give you an idea of how the game is panning out - Switzerland have made 162 passes to Northern Ireland's 53.  8:09PM 23 min Lichtsteiner once more comes flying forward down the right and he digs out a cross that Zuber can't quite get a good connection on. All Switzerland at the moment.  8:06PM 20 min We probably knew this already but for NI to qualify, Switzerland are going to have to be extremely wasteful over the two legs. The visitors look like creating chances pretty much every time they go forward.  8:04PM 18 min Yeah this is a really strong period for Switzerland. Lichtsteiner is again in lots of space down the right, and his low pinpoint cross is cleared by McAuley. Moments later Shaqiri picks out Seferovic with a beautiful diagonal, but the striker's hooked volley is well saved by McGovern. Backs to the wall stuff from Northern Ireland.  Attempt Saved: Northern Ireland 0 - 0 Switzerland (Haris Seferovic, 18 min) 8:01PM 17 min Switzerland offer a real threat down both flanks, and this time it's down the right where they make hay. Lichtsteiner bombs forward and clips in a lovely cross that just evades Zuber.  7:59PM 14 min NI look most dangerous from set pieces, and a high ball into the box is met well by McAuley before Lafferty has a volley deflected wide. The resulting corner is headed over by Jonny Evans from about 10 yards out. Not an easy chance.  7:58PM 12 min Zubrr does brilliantly down the left - he looks a real handful - and he picks out Xhaka around 25 yards from goal. Again though the Arsenal man is off target with a left-footed curler.  Miss: Northern Ireland 0 - 0 Switzerland (Granit Xhaka, 12 min) 7:55PM 9 min Switzerland enjoy a good period and create a couple of decent chances. First Dzemaili has a shot blocked inside the area before Xhaka fires over from the edge of the box. The pressure is really building for Switzerland here.  7:52PM 6 min Brunt hoists in the resulting free-kick, which is headed clear by Xhaka. That Dallas break incidentally came from a misplaced Xhaka pass.  7:50PM 5 min Schar picks up an early booking for a really bad tackle on Dallas. He went absolutely flying into the Northern Ireland forward as he broke clear down the left.  7:48PM 4 min Lafferty stabs a volley well wide from another Magennis cross as NI try and keep the pressure up in the early stages.  7:47PM 3 min The noise really is deafening, and the stadium is awash with green and white. Magennis does well down the right and whips a cross in, but it's well cleared by the Swiss defence. Real up and at 'em start from the hosts.  7:45PM Kick-off We're under way. A reminder of the teams - Michael O'Neill has opted for Kyle Lafferty up front ahead of Conor Washington.  Northern Ireland (4-3-3): McGovern; McLaughlin, McAuley, J Evans, Brunt; Norwood, C Evans, Davis; Magennis, Lafferty, Dallas. Switzerland (4-2-3-1): Sommer; Lichtsteiner, Akanji, Schar, Rodriguez; Xhaka, Zakaria; Shaqiri, Dzemaili, Zuber; Seferovic. 7:43PM What a noise The anthems are belted out, and Steven Davis is presented with a trophy to mark him winning his 100th NI cap. I feel I'm contractually obliged to describe this as a 'nice touch'.  7:39PM Fortress Windsor NI have won nine of their last 11 home matches, and the atmosphere at Windsor Park is absolutely electric. Teams are in the tunnel about to come out... 7:19PM On a tightrope Steven Davis, Jonny Evans, Corry Evans, Stuart Dallas, Oliver Norwood and Josh Magennis are all one yellow card away from a suspension that would rule them out of the second leg. 7:11PM What's been said Northern Ireland ended a 30-year wait for a finals appearance as they reached Euro 2016 and Josh Magennis, 27, wants to again experience the wave of emotion which greeted that achievement. "We didn't realise the magnitude of [qualifying for] France until we were here about to go and social media-wise and media-wise, it was just everywhere. "What it did for the country, not just ourselves, was basically unite people for about a month. It was absolutely massive." Northern Ireland captain Steven Davis, who is set to win his 100th cap, says his side must get their midfield balance right at Windsor Park. "From seeing some early analysis of them, they're clearly very comfortable in possession," said the Northern Ireland skipper. "It's going to be a difficult game. If you look at their results in qualifying, they were very unfortunate not to qualify automatically for the World Cup.  Steve Davis wins his 100th cap on Thursday night "The biggest thing for us is going to be getting that balance right, between pressing and cutting off the lines for them to play through. "If we can do that, we know we've got the quality to hurt them, and there are weaknesses we can exploit." 6:58PM Preamble Evening all, Can Northern Ireland take a big step tonight towards ending 31 years of hurt by qualifying for their first World Cup since 1986? Standing in their way are Switzerland, who have qualified for the previous three World Cups and are a little miffed to be in the playoffs having taken 27 points from their 10 group matches. In fact they're probably feeling a bit like someone who's just smashed a job interview only to be told "sorry, we had the absolutely perfect candidate come in after you".  But anyway, enough of my employment history, here the Swiss are at Windsor Park where they will be up against the formidable Northern Irish rearguard that kept seven clean sheets in 10 qualifying matches.  The West Brom pair of Gareth McAuley and Jonny Evans are the defensive bedrock of the side, while further forward Steven Davis will provide the dynamism and energy from midfield as he earns his 100th international cap.  Up front, Kyle Lafferty (one of those David Healy/Miroslav Klose types who is far better at international than club level) and Josh Magennis will look to unsettle the Swiss back four, which is without former Arsenal centre-back Johan Djourou. Current Arsenal midfielder Granit Xhaka will pull the strings for Switzerland tonight, while Xherdan Shaqiri will be tasked with providing the creative spark.  Juventus's Stephan Lichtsteiner and AC Milan's Ricardo Rodriguez will offer width and an attacking threat from the full-back positions.  My prediction for what it's worth is Northern Ireland 0 Switzerland 1.  6:51PM Teams are in  Northern Ireland:McGovern, McLaughlin, McAuley, J Evans, Brunt, Norwood , C Evans, Davis, Magennis, Lafferty, Dallas Switzerland: Sommer, Lichtsteiner, Schär, Akanji, Rodríguez, Xhaka, Zakaria, Shaqiri, Dzemaili, Zuber, Seferovic 6:06PM Preview - Fighting talk from Ward We'll be back at 6.45pm with the team news and then the build-up to tonight's World Cup play-off, but before then here's a wee preview from our pals at the Press Association.  Jamie Ward has cranked up the pressure on Switzerland by telling them Northern Ireland will thrive as the underdogs in their World Cup play-off. The Northern Irish missed out on being seeded for the draw last month by virtue of their world ranking, so knew they would face either the Swiss, Italy, Croatia or Denmark over two legs to determine their Russia fate. Nottingham Forest forward Ward, back in Michael O'Neill's fold for the first time since March having overcome a calf problem, had no qualms with that and has told Switzerland they have to handle the expectation. Vladimir Petkovic's team arrived in Belfast on Tuesday ahead of Thursday's first leg, and Ward said: "They've got to take their chances. Everyone is expecting them to win in the football world. Michael O'Neill has done a magnificent job as Northern Ireland manager Credit: Getty Images "They're obviously the seeded team, so the pressure's more on them than us. "We're always great as the underdogs, so I think it was a bit of a bonus us not being seeded. "If you're seeded, you get a little more pressure on yourself so we'll go into this game as underdogs again. Hopefully we can be worthy winners. "We'd love something heading over there. I think we're strong at home and you've seen that over the last few years. "If we play the way we can play, I don't see why we can't take a lead out there or at least a positive result." Should O'Neill's team find a way past the Swiss, they would end a 32-year exile from the World Cup finals and become the first Northern Irish side in history to make back-to-back major tournaments. With Wales and Scotland already out of the running, and the Republic of Ireland involved in their own play-off, Ward feels the Northern Irish are still not getting the recognition they warrant. "I think people see it as it's Northern Ireland and they've not done well for a long time, but on the other side they will go and buy players from the Republic squad," he added. "Premier League clubs are happy to do that. We're just as good as them, but it's obviously someone taking a risk or a chance on us and letting us prove we're worth playing at the next level."

Nottingham Forest owner Evangelos Marinakis charged with match-fixing offences in Greece

Nottingham Forest owner Evangelos Marinakis charged with match-fixing offences in Greece

Nottingham Forest owner Evangelos Marinakis charged with match-fixing offences in Greece

The charges are unlikely to affect Evangelos Marinakis’s freedom to continue his ownership and running of Nottingham Forest.

Exclusive: Martin O'Neill reveals the secrets to his success - and why he will always be in Brian Clough's debt 

Martin O'Neill is on the brink of another odds-defying triumph as Republic of Ireland prepare for their World Cup play-off against Denmark. In an exclusive interview with Telegraph Sport, he reveals his blueprint for management.  Personality As a player at Nottingham Forest, Martin O’Neill was part of one of the great underdog stories, forming an integral part of the side which won two European Cups under Brian Clough. It is an experience he still draws on decades later. It fuelled his success at Leicester - where he won two League Cups as a manager - and his determination to inspire an Ireland team, lacking world class players, to punch above their weight. “There are comparisons with the job I did at Leicester and what I'm doing at Ireland - it does bring out something in my personality,” O’Neill told Telegraph Sport. “That love of the underdog. I had that as a player at Nottingham Forest too, when we won the league and the European Cup. Those were the great days of my playing career, under Brian Clough, and that stays with you as a manager. “Clough used to play on that in the media, the underdog thing, but he never gave a feeling of inadequacy to the players. Far from it, in fact. The best managers do that." Indeed, empowering players - and making them feel valued - lies at the heart of the O'Neill philosophy. O'Neill won the league and the European Cup with Forest Credit: PA “Football is about the players," he said. "When we were growing up, the dream was to be a cricketer or a footballer - it was to score a 100 in a Test match, it was to score the winning goal at Wembley or in a European Cup final. I don’t think there are many 10-year-olds dreaming of standing on a touchline directing the team. “The manager is very, very important, I’m not minimising that. Great managers are worth their weight in gold, but the game belongs to the players. You want to see the players performing, the great managers try and get a reflection of themselves in the players.” Tactics There are those who have argued that O’Neill, at the age of 65, is no longer relevant as a tactician; a dinosaur who cannot keep up with a younger breed of dynamic managers with new styles and formations. Such accusations irritate him, given his success. As does the persistent accusation in Ireland, that his team do not have any clear tactical guidance. O’Neill does not follow fashions and, unlike some, does not try to blind critics with talk of philosophies and brands. In private, O’Neill often scoffs at those who have tried to suggest they have reinvented football from the dugout. “Words like philosophy seem to be used now and accepted,” said O’Neill. “I have no problem with that, but everybody has a philosophy. Clough had a philosophy, Jock Stein had a philosophy, they just didn’t use it every single day to try and baffle people. O'Neill (left) alongside Brian Clough Credit: PA “The great managers, who might be considered dinosaurs now, they had a philosophy about how they wanted the game to be played. But, the key thing is, regardless of the players they had at their disposal, they had to try and get the very best out of them. “If you are trying to compete and win against teams who might look stronger on paper, you are at a disadvantage, but you have to try and make up for those disadvantages in any way you can. “You find a way to get the best out of what you have, but I’ve never played the same system throughout my career. You set up your team to find a way to win. You have to try and shut down the other team. If you are going up against a side that is going to have most of the ball, you have to be able to play without the ball. That gives you a chance.” Man-management No matter where he has been, players have enjoyed playing for O’Neill and his man-management has always been considered a strength. The Northern Irishman, much like Clough before him, has an unrivalled ability to get inside a player’s head. Not only motivating them, but making them believe they are a better player than anyone has told them before. He does it in his own way, adopting, but also adapting, Clough’s methods to suit his own personality. He knows football and understands what makes footballers tick. Everything is built around that talent. “It seems to be said of me, that I don’t speak to my players very much,” he admitted. “I’m not sure I agree. You need to be in the midst of the players, but you don’t always have to be talking to them. “They know I’m watching. People might have said I’m a bit aloof, but I’m among the players without inconveniencing them by telling them what to do all the time. O'Neill doesn't feel the need to constantly talk to his players Credit: Getty images “For me, directing players during a game, is crucial. Telling players what they can do to influence a game is the priority. Brian Clough was considered a great man manager and I hear people say he didn’t do a lot of coaching. I have to tell you, that is the biggest load of balderdash. “Clough did a lot of coaching, but he didn’t take us for long sessions and have us standing around, pointing out things all the time. But he was always there, he always joined in, he would make small points, but they were always interesting. “During a game, that was his real strength. He would point out little things to you and they would really stick because the pressure was on in the midst of a game. It was something you had to rectify if you were going to help the team. He had a wonderful way of getting through to you, particularly at half time. One word of praise from him meant so much. “The other side to that, if you are constantly making the same mistakes, this is what Cloughie said, and you have been told several times, then that’s your fault if you’re not in the team. If you’re told something four times and it doesn’t go in, then you have a problem. He was an excellent coach, he just wasn’t on the training ground every single day. But the points he made to us as players, have stood the test of time. “That’s the important aspect of coaching. Some aspects of the game have changed through the years, but not the methods.” Coaching staff Eyebrows were raised when O’Neill announced that Roy Keane would be his assistant manager with Ireland because, as he acknowledged at the time, they did not know each other well. O'Neill and Roy Keane have made a successful double act Credit: Getty images However, both are former pupils of Clough and what has developed since is a bond that will not be broken easily. Keane may not have looked it at the time, but he is everything O’Neill wants from a member of his coaching team. “You want loyalty, but you also want someone to challenge you,” O’Neill added, “You want your coaches to have an opinion, an honest opinion. It would be pointless if they didn’t have an opinion. I’m the manager, ultimately it is my responsibility, so I have the final say, but I like people to voice their opinions on a player and a game. “It’s interesting, Clough had Peter Taylor for a long time and a trainer called Jimmy Gordon who he trusted implicitly. You forge those bonds and those relationships. It’s to do with trust, loyalty and valuing somebody’s opinion. That’s what I want from my coaches.”

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