Monday 19 February 2018

5 things we learned from Northern Ireland's defeat to Norway

Jonny Evans, left, and Steven Davis came out for their warm-up minutes after Northern Ireland's play-off place was confirmed
Jonny Evans, left, and Steven Davis came out for their warm-up minutes after Northern Ireland's play-off place was confirmed

Northern Ireland's play-off place was confirmed on Sunday night despite Chris Brunt scoring an own goal in their 1-0 loss to Norway.

Here Press Association Sport looks at the talking points that emerged from Oslo.


A below-par Northern Irish performance can be attributed to the fact they discovered an hour before kick-off that the game lost its importance. Scotland's failure to beat Slovenia sealed a play-off berth for Michael O'Neill's team and though a win would have enhanced their chances of being seeded for that draw, it was understandable that the intensity normally associated with this Northern Irish team was absent. Whoever they face in the play-offs could use this as evidence to think there is nothing to fear, but the job was done long before.


On that subject, it is farcical that the final round of group games are staggered across three days at various times when there is a play-off picture still to be determined. If the game's global governing body want to avoid the dead-rubber feeling that this final group game had, they should have had it at the same time as all of the others. With a complicated play-off procedure and an even more bewildering ranking scheme, Northern Ireland must have just been left with a feeling of what will be, will be once they knew they had two November fixtures secured.


Brunt possesses one of the best left foots in the Premier League but using it to try and hook clear at the back post in the 71st minute was just foolish. Even if he thought he was under pressure when Stefan Johansen's tipped cross reached the back post, the danger would have been removed easily if Brunt had used his right foot. Instead he tried to stab away with the outside of his left foot and sliced it horribly into the top corner of his own net. In the grand scheme of things, it matters little, but you can bet Brunt will think twice if he is in that scenario next month.


O'Neill's teamsheet had to be turned in before the Scotland game finished, meaning he could not risk leaving out his key men in case they still needed a result at the Ullevaal Stadion. That meant risking six players who were one booking away from missing the first leg of the play-offs. At half-time it was no surprise O'Neill removed the risk for one of those half-a-dozen by replacing them. What raised more eyebrows was that it was 50th-cap winner Norwood, not captain Steven Davis or Jonny Evans, who was taken off. Norwood has started 42 of O'Neill's 51 games in charge and his importance was highlighted by him being the first one taken off.


Northern Ireland need a fit and firing McAuley if they are to stand any chance of winning their play-off next month. The West Brom centre-back arrived on international duty with just 62 minutes of senior football under his belt and it showed. He was half a step behind Sandro Wagner when he lashed in Germany's second on Thursday and in Oslo McAuley missed several headers he would have normally won and looked generally off the pace. The only way he will get back up to speed is if he is playing regularly, a decision that rests in the hands of Tony Pulis.

Press Association

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