Saturday 25 November 2017

Northern Ireland keep bandwagon rolling

Northern Ireland's Conor Washington celebrates scoring his side's winner. Photo: PA
Northern Ireland's Conor Washington celebrates scoring his side's winner. Photo: PA Newsdesk Newsdesk

Michael O'Neill's focus may not extend beyond ensuring his team are fully prepared for the European Championship finals in June but his Northern Ireland players continue to make history en route to France.

A deserved 1-0 victory against Slovenia at Windsor Park last night extended Northern Ireland's unbeaten run to a record 10 matches and ensured a little added momentum in the country's preparations for their first leading tournament for 30 years.

The feat eclipsed the two previous records, set in 1980 and 1986, and means Northern Ireland have now gone a year since last losing, a measure of their progress under their upwardly mobile manager.

In truth, though, O'Neill is likely to have been more enthused by a hugely encouraging performance from Conor Washington, the young Queens Park Rangers striker, who marked only his second international appearance with a stunning goal.

O'Neill will know the identity of the majority of his squad but Washington will have done his chances of inclusion no harm with an enterprising display.

Only four years ago Washington was playing in the Southern League for St Ives Town. Soon he could be rubbing shoulders with Europe's elite.

The other key moment in the victory was provided courtesy of a penalty save from Roy Carroll, who belied his 38 years to get down low to beat away Milivoje Novakovic's 63rd-minute spot-kick.

It's all a far cry from those days, a little more than a decade ago, when they went 1,298 minutes without a goal and two years without a win.

Irish Independent

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