As great as the feeling is, a goal against San Marino should not produce absolute limbs. However, given that Northern Ireland are on the cusp of securing a play-off for the World Cup, no goals on 70 minutes had everyone thinking “we’ve seen it all before.”
Michael O’Neill originally went too attacking. Playing four up front against one of the world’s worst sides seems a good idea on paper but football isn’t quite as simple as that. It was only when star striker Kyle Lafferty was subbed off and a more orthodox 4-3-3 was played did we get the goals to secure the win. Here’s how I rated the Northern Irish boys:
Here’s how I rated the performance:
Michael McGovern – 6
Wasn’t tested at all, record books will show another clean sheet for the Norwich man though. That’s six clean sheets in seven this campaign.
Conor McLaughlin – 5
Given how little he had to do defensively, I would’ve liked to have seen a bit more quality going forward. Decision making was a bit off and crossing quality was lacking. Hardly disastrous, though.
Jonny Evans – 5
Had an easy job given how San Marino set up with the lone striker being completely isolated. Misplaced a few passes but was fine.
Aaron Hughes – 6
Same as Jonny Evans but didn’t give the ball away so gets an extra point.
Chris Brunt – 4
The West Brom man was pretty poor overall. Tried far too many long balls and quality of delivery was uncharacteristically well off. Fairly sure he’ll be moved into midfield on Monday night with Ferguson going to left back.
Steven Davis – 5
The captain didn’t have a great game generally. Was looking to get things going and wasn’t helped by the lack of runners but technically looked off form. He does set up the Magennis opener though and takes his penalty well so I won’t be too harsh.
Oliver Norwood – 5
Generally quiet. Unlucky not to score on a few occasions, doesn’t offer much ball quality apart from set-pieces.
Josh Magennis – 8
By far Northern Ireland’s best player on the night. Used his pace and strength to good effect all game and was full value for his two goals. Magennis has only scored three international goals but they have all been vital. Has to start against the Czechs.
Kyle Lafferty – 3
Probably our worst player on the night, perhaps still struggling for a bit of match fitness despite being a regular starter so far for Hearts. Not sure he can play with Conor Washington. Could be a great option off the bench on Monday evening.
Connor Washington – 5.5
Benefitted from being the lone striker when Lafferty was taken off. Used his pace to make some great runs and showed excellent composure to set up Josh Magennis for 2-0 while he was one-on-one.
Stuart Dallas – 6
Had a good game overall, scared the defence with his directness. Becoming an important player for us.
Niall McGinn – 6
Came on with the points in the bag, had the San Marino left back on toast, who, to be fair, was absolutely knackered.
Shane Ferguson – 7
Much better than Chris Brunt. Offered good energy and quality. Great substitution from O’Neill.
Corry Evans – 6
Kept it simple.