Conor Washington on target as Northern Ireland rewrite history books with victory over Slovenia
N IRELAND 1 SLOVENIA 0
Conor Washington boosted his Euro 2016 prospects with a superb goal as Northern Ireland made history at Windsor Park on Monday night.
Washington showed strength and guile to hammer home his first international goal to seal a 1-0 victory against Slovenia.
The QPR striker – on his home debut – was determined to convince Michael O’Neill that he warranted a place in the Northern Ireland manager’s final 23-man squad for France.
This performance will have bolstered Washington’s hopes, as will the display of Michael Smith who impressed on his full debut.
Goalkeeper Roy Carroll also reminded O’Neill of his value for the Euros, saving a second half penalty from Slovenia substitute Milivoje Novakovic.
The spirited win saw O’Neill’s side stretch their unbeaten record to 10 games, eclipsing the record of the great sides of Billy Bingham in the 1980s.
O’Neill made four changes to the starting line-up in Wales four days previous.
Peterborough full-back Smith came in for his debut, with Carroll, Shane Ferguson and Jamie Ward also starting.
Washington – who made his debut in Wales – kept his spot in attack with Kyle Lafferty dropping to the bench.
Prior to kick-off also came the news that Ross County striker Liam Boyce had returned to his club for treatment after picking up a hand injury.
The visitors started brightly with Nejc Skubic and Roman Bezjak firing efforts wide of the mark in the opening 12 minutes.
Josip Ilicic also forced Carroll into a save in the 27th minute.
Northern Ireland responded in the 29th minute with Washington cleverly wrong-footing Miral Samardzic to bear down on goal, but Slovenia goalkeeper Jan Oblak rushed out to block the striker’s shot.
The opening goal arrived in the 41st minute with Washington sending Windsor into raptures.
Washington outmuscled Nejc Skubic in an aerial challenge before rushing into the Slovenia box, and after cutting inside Bostjan Cesar the striker rifled a low shot past the static Oblak.
Slovenia were awarded a penalty in the 65th minute when Jonny Evans was adjudged to have fouled Samardzic inside the box.
Substitute Novakovic – who had been introduced at the break – stepped up to take the resulting spot-kick, but his effort was well saved by Carroll who got down well to his right to bat the ball away.
The boos that followed Novakovic’s run-up were deafening, and the cheers that greeted his miss were even more emphatic.
Carroll was called into action again in the 88th minute, stretching to tip Valter Birsa’s low shot past the post.
It was a nervy ending but Northern Ireland held on for another morale-boosting win.
Next up is the visit of Belarus to Belfast on May 27 before a final friendly in Slovakia on June 4 – and then a Euro 2016 opener with Poland on June 12.
N IRELAND: Carroll, McAuley (Hughes 46), Evans, Davis, Ferguson (Dallas 60), Norwood, McNair (McGinn 79), Ward (K. Lafferty 60), Cathcart, Washington (Magennis 70), Smith (McLaughlin 71).
Subs not used: McGovern, D. Lafferty, McCullough, McKay, Hodson, Paton.
SLOVENIA: Oblak, Cesar (Vidmar 80), Jokic, Samardzic, Skubic (Stojanovic 62), Birsa, Ilicic (Novakovic 46), Krhin, Kurtic (Vrhovec 46), Verbic (Kirm 62), Bezjak (Crnic 74).
Subs not used: Belec, Struna.
Referee: Kristo Tohver (Estonia)