Friday 20 September 2019

Last-gasp Lazaro winner breaks Northern Ireland's hearts on frustrating night

Northern Ireland 1 Austria 2

Pain of defeat: A dejected Stuart Dallas and Jonny Evans after Austria’s second goal. Photo: Jason Cairnduff/Action Images via Reuters
Pain of defeat: A dejected Stuart Dallas and Jonny Evans after Austria’s second goal. Photo: Jason Cairnduff/Action Images via Reuters

Jamie Holland

Valentino Lazaro broke Northern Ireland hearts as he struck a winner for Austria with virtually the last kick of the game at Windsor Park.

Corry Evans' first international goal in eight years had cancelled out Xaver Schlager's opener and looked to have earned Northern Ireland their first point in the Nations League.

But Lazaro fired the ball into the top corner of the net after Stuart Dallas lost possession in another frustrating night for Michael O'Neill's men.

"We didn't deserve to lose the game - there's no doubt about that. We matched them in the first half and our reaction to gong behind was excellent," said O'Neill afterwards.

"We played very well and I thought from the 80th minute, we looked the more likely to win the game.

"But we tired a little bit and that's to be expected playing with a lot of players who aren't playing regular first-team football and I think that was evident in the final five or six minutes of the game in particular.

Austria goalkeeper Heinz Lindner (left) and Northern Ireland's Kyle Lafferty battle for the ball. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA Wire
Austria goalkeeper Heinz Lindner (left) and Northern Ireland's Kyle Lafferty battle for the ball. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

"The goal is the last kick of the ball and it's a fantastic finish, but we didn't deserve that. I thought there were a lot of poor decisions and it was a disappointing performance from the referee.

"We've lost the four games and we can't get away from that, we can't try to sugarcoat that in any way. But I think on the balance of performances, the results have been extremely harsh on us.

"I think people have to realise that we are asking young players to step up from sometimes Championship level, and sometimes League One level, and it is going to take time and there's a lot of learning to be done."

With Northern Ireland's relegation already certain following three straight defeats, there was a rather flat atmosphere in the ground, which would soon be reflected on the pitch in a first half of few chances.

Austria's Marko Arnautovic celebrates with Aleksandar Dragovic and team mates at the end of the match. Photo: Jason Cairnduff/Action Images via Reuters
Austria's Marko Arnautovic celebrates with Aleksandar Dragovic and team mates at the end of the match. Photo: Jason Cairnduff/Action Images via Reuters

Austria needed just four minutes of the second half to break the deadlock.

Steven Davis failed to cut out a low cross from substitute Peter Zulj, as David Alaba played a neat dummy and Schlager darted in front of George Saville to arrow a shot into the far corner.

The goal brought the match - and Northern Ireland - to life and they launched a half-hearted appeal for a penalty when Jonny Evans tumbled over under pressure from Aleksandar Dragovic.

Niall McGinn then drove at goal and played in Davis, whose low shot was blocked by Dragovic before McGinn fired the ball over from the rebound.

Northern Ireland were level in the 56th minute. This time, it was Jordan Jones who strode towards goal before slipping the ball in to Corry Evans.

The Blackburn man took a touch to steady himself before striking a low shot, which deflected off Martin Hinteregger, to give Evans his first goal for Northern Ireland since 2010.

Schlager could, and probably should, have put Austria back in front in the 66th minute, when he got a toe to Michael Gregoritsch's shot, but he diverted it wide.

Austria were enjoying another spell of supremacy, with Alaba - switched to the right wing - cutting inside before firing just wide from the edge of the area.

Marko Arnautovic then came on for the last 20 minutes and was soon involved, as he laid the ball off for Alaba, but this time he blazed over.

Things began to get tetchy as the match moved into the final stages and Gareth McAuley was booked after appearing to hold Arnautovic in a headlock when they were on the floor.

But, just as it appeared Northern Ireland had earned a point, Dallas gave the ball away and Arnautovic played in Lazaro to deliver the final blow.

Irish Independent

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