What a week it’s been for Northern Ireland fans.
Kyle Lafferty’s last-gasp leveller against Hungary in Monday night’s Euro 2016 Group F match sent a nerve-jangled Windsor Park into raptures and kept the dream of qualification alive.
The Green and White Army had arrived at the new-look ground expecting big things after a Gareth McAuley double and a strike from Kyle Lafferty helped secure a 3-1 win in Torshavn against 10-man Faroe Islands on Friday evening.
But the outlook was bleak with 74 minutes gone in Monday’s clash when Richard Guzmzic put the visitors in control, capitalising when keeper Michael McGovern dropped a Balazs Dzsudzsak free-kick.
Things went from bad to worse when Chris Baird saw red after picking up two yellow cards in the same passage of play. Most inside the stadium were baffled by the decision but Turkish referee Cüneyt Çakı got it spot on.
Northern Ireland kept plugging and three minutes into an allotted five of additional time it was textbook Roy of the Rovers stuff as big Lafferty pounced to smash home his seventh of the campaign when Gabor Kiraly spilled Niall McGinn’s low shot.
Windsor was rocking and fans are already counting down the days to October 8 when they will be praying Michael O’Neill’s men can get the job done on home turf against Greece.
Yet again, East Antrim’s contingent of international stars played a huge part in both matches. Larne man McAuley led by example with a brace of headers against the Faroes. That’s seven international goals from centre-back, a magnificent return for the West Brom defender.
His new clubmate, Newtownabbey’s Jonny Evans, tasted his first competitive action of the season and delivered two solid performances in defence, while his younger brother, Corry, worked his socks off when he was given the nod against Hungary.
Ballyclare’s Paddy McNair again got a feel for the competitive edge of international football, getting in the act as a second-half sub against the Faroes.
When all was said and done against Hungary, Northern Ireland still topped the group, one point ahead of Romania and October can’t come soon enough.
Greece is the word.