Northern Ireland extend unbeaten run with Belarus win
BELFAST: Northern Ireland's record-breaking unbeaten streak was stretched to 11 matches with a 3-0 victory over Belarus at Windsor Park on Friday as Michael O’Neill’s team continued their impressive preparations for Euro 2016.
Kyle Lafferty scored six minutes into his 50th international appearance, Conor Washington claimed his second in three games just before halftime and substitute Will Grigg netted two minutes from time as the Irish claimed a sixth win in 11 games.
That run includes an eight-game unbeaten spell in qualifying for the finals that saw Northern Ireland book a place at a major championship for the first time in 30 years, with the team due to face world champions Germany, Poland and Ukraine next month.
“The game couldn’t have gone any better for us really,” said O’Neill. It was good to make the substitutions... we were able to work with the team and we were able to play about with things a bit and all-in-all in was a perfect night for us.
“What we’re trying to get in this team is flexibility, the ability to change. We asked (central defender) Jonny Evans to play for the last 20 minutes as left back and (midfielder) Stuart Dallas to play out of position (on the left flank).
"It was a great performance from us tonight. I thought (Manchester United centre back) Paddy McNair was magnificent tonight. What we did tonight was fantastic.”
Goalkeeper Roy Carroll, 38, started for the second game in a row while McNair won his seventh cap alongside Corry Evans and Steven Davis in midfield as O’Neill took a final look at his options before naming his final 23-man squad on Saturday.
Lafferty opened the scoring with his 17th international goal when he reacted quickest after Egor Filipenko failed to clear Dallas’s low cross into the six-yard box, thumping the ball into the bottom corner of Andrei Harbunov’s goal.
Another defensive error led to Ireland’s second just over a minute before the break when another Dallas cross from the left caused problems and Harbunov’s attempted punch looped into the air to allow Washington to head into the unguarded net.
The visitors’ poor defending gave Grigg, a 61st minute substitute for Lafferty, the chance to add a third in the 88th and the Wigan Athletic man slotted home his first goal for his country with a right-foot shot from 12 metres.
Belarus rarely threatened, ensuring the hosts a comfortable send-off in front of a typically boisterous Windsor Park crowd.
O’Neill’s team have one more friendly -- against Slovakia on June 4 -- before their debut at a European Championship against Poland in Group C on June 12 in Nice.