Thursday 26 April 2018

Lafferty and Hodson start for Northern Ireland

Kyle Lafferty, left, was entrusted with a start
Kyle Lafferty, left, was entrusted with a start

Kyle Lafferty and Lee Hodson were both given the nod to start Northern Ireland's World Cup qualifier against Germany at Windsor Park.

Hearts striker Lafferty, who last week opened up about a gambling addiction, was preferred over QPR's Conor Washington, while Rangers defender Hodson was chosen having featured from the off in the reverse fixture in Hannover a year ago.

Jerome Boateng was brought into the Germany line-up for the first time since that game too, while Manchester City's Leroy Sane, Chelsea's Antonio Rudiger and Liverpool's Emre Can were all only among the substitutes.

With the world champions in town, Northern Ireland rolled out their own global king as triple World Superbike champion Jonathan Rea addressed the crowd prior to kick-off and predicted a 1-0 home win. That was rendered impossible after just 83 seconds thanks to a Sebastian Rudy rocket.

A cross intended for Sandro Wagner was volleyed away by Hodson and Joshua Kimmich rolled it back to Bayern team-mate Rudy, who used the outside of his foot to smash an unstoppable 30-yard attempt into the top corner of Michael McGovern's net.

It was a nightmare start for Michael O'Neill's men, against a side that have never lost a World Cup qualifier away from home, as McGovern was beaten in an international for the first time in over 10 hours.

The hosts looked to respond as Hodson's effort from the edge of the box was deflected wide for a corner, which Chris Brunt almost lifted on to Gareth McAuley's head.

A cross from Kimmich, listed on the teamsheet as a right-back but posted as far forward as possible on that flank, was headed onto a post by Wagner, who wanted a penalty when he tangled with Conor McLaughlin.

He did not get it, but did get a goal moments later as he collected Thomas Muller's pass, turned on the edge of the box and rifled beyond McGovern.

Even with two strikers on the field, Northern Ireland were essentially in two banks of five against a German side continuing to have joy through Kimmich's raiding runs.

A third sumptuous goal nearly arrived when Rudy clipped over for Kimmich and he just missed finding Wagner as a stunned Northern Irish side - 2-0 down inside 21 minutes - were left chasing shadows.

Julian Draxler and Mats Hummels both missed the target with attempts but there was little relief for a Northern Irish side unable to alleviate the pressure for long.

Yet with five first-half minutes remaining, O'Neill's men should have reduced the deficit through Corry Evans.

Hodson fed Josh Magennis down the right flank and his delivery came through to an unmarked Evans at the back post, only for his hesitant first touch to be followed by an unconvincing finish that struck Marc-Andre ter Stegen's leg.

It still culminated in a corner which reached Lafferty but his weak header was directed straight at Ter Stegen rather than back across goal as Germany entered the break 2-0 up.

INTRO: Terrific first-half strikes from Sebastian Rudy and Sandro Wagner against Northern Ireland ensured world champions Germany were 45 minutes away from confirming their place in Russia next summer.

Die Mannschaft, who have never lost an away World Cup qualifier in their entire history, went ahead 83 seconds in through Rudy's 30-yard bullet and doubled their advantage in the 21st minute when centre-forward Wagner rolled Gareth McAuley and fired home from the edge of the box.

A shell-shocked Northern Irish side could have halved the deficit just before the break but Corry Evans' hesitancy in front of goal meant goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen was able to keep his effort out.

O'Neill recognised he needed to do something to stop Kimmich's influence on the game and he introduced Stuart Dallas at the start of the second period for Hodson, also switching to a back four.

The hosts were pressing higher up too in an attempt to prevent Toni Kroos and Rudy from dictating proceedings from deep, not that it stopped another attack that ended with a Muller header that McGovern had to scoop behind.

McLaughlin took a leaf out of Kimmich's book when he nutmegged Draxler and bamboozled Marvin Plattenhardt only to whip the ball straight to Ter Stegen.

Northern Ireland were much better after the break, though, and they had the crowd more involved too when Lafferty's cross was cut out by Hummels to force a corner that ultimately came to nothing.

Joachim Low brought on Can for Leon Goretzka, though from a Northern Irish perspective he was one of the few German attacking players who did not dazzle.

Kroos blazed over a decent opportunity before O'Neill, who had five players on the pitch that were one booking from a suspension, then took Lafferty off for Washington.

The embarrassment of riches at Low's disposal was epitomised by him bringing on City's Sane for Draxler, but the noise level in Windsor remained raucous.

The Green and White Army had been praised by both Low and Hummels prior to the game for their endearing support whatever the result and they were almost rewarded with a 77th-minute goal.

Magennis passed to Washington inside the box and he side-stepped Boateng with the goal at his mercy only to lash an attempt off the top of the crossbar. It was a chance every bit as good as Corry Evans' in the first period and was the type of opportunity that has to be snaffled against such opponents.

Millwall's George Saville was introduced for an international debut and he raced back to stop a pass getting to Sane in the box moments after the Manchester City man had scooped a clear opening over.

There would be a German third four minutes from time and, fittingly, it was Kimmich who claimed it when he steered a volley past McGovern after Plattenhardt's cross was headed into the air by Jonny Evans.

Yet it would finish 3-1 as Brunt's corner was headed back towards goal by McAuley, where Magennis was waiting to direct in a consolation effort with virtually the final act.

INTRO: World champions Germany will defend their title in Russia next summer having booked their qualification by becoming the first visiting team to win a competitive game in Northern Ireland since 2013.

Sebastian Rudy's brilliant strike after 83 seconds was followed by Sandro Wagner's clinical 21st-minute finish and a fine volley by the outstanding Joshua Kimmich as Die Mannschaft won 3-1 to continue their record of having never been beaten in an away World Cup qualifier.

Northern Ireland, last beaten in a qualifier by Portugal in September 2013, could still be assured of a play-off place before they face Norway on Sunday if results go their way on Saturday, and they claimed a stoppage-time consolation here through Josh Magennis.

Press Association

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