The Green and White Army seized the initiative early on in the game but had to rely on a late spot-kick to ensure they avoided defeat after a great response from the visitors
Martin Paterson‘s late penalty snatched a 3-3 draw for Northern Ireland against Finland in a game strewn with defensive errors.
Early goals from Shane Ferguson and Kyle Lafferty got the home side off to a flyer in Belfast, but the Green and White Army were unable to maintain their advantage as Finland capitalised on some woeful Irish defending to ensure the two teams were level at the break.
A stunning free kick from Perparim Hetemaj late in the second half looked to have condemned Northern Ireland to their seventh straight international defeat, before Martin Paterson spared the home side's blushes by converting an 85th minute penalty.
Michael O’Neill selected a strong XI to take to the field at Windsor Park, seemingly taking full advantage of the opportunity to assess where his team were at ahead of the World Cup qualifiers in September.
The game also provided O'Neill with a chance to trial the strike partnership of Kyle Lafferty and Dean Shiels as the squad looked to address their lack of goals on the international scene.
The game was barely five minutes old when the home side took the lead. Shiels found himself inside the opposing penalty area and showed quick feet to twist and turn and squeeze a shot away, only for the rebound to fall Shane Ferguson and the Newcastle winger rifled his left-foot effort into the top corner from 18 yards out.
And a good start turned into an even better start 12 minutes later, with Lafferty the next to profit from some industrious Northern Ireland build-up. It was Shiels who was involved again, engineering space for a cross down the right-hand side and his cross was met by the striker at the near post to steer past a hapless Maenpaa in the Finland goal.
However, the following five minutes were ones to forget for Michael O'Neill, however, as Northern Ireland's defence capitulated at the first sign of pressure from the Finns.
First to find the net for the away side was Tim Sparv who found himself unmarked in the area and was able to guide home a superb header from seven yards out.
Yet more slack defending from the home side was on show for the equaliser just minutes later, too. Chris Brunt was the culprit this time as his careless back pass fell to feet of Finland striker Teemu Pukki who has the simplest task of prodding past an onrushing Roy Carroll to ensure the teams went into the break all square.
The Scandinavian side were evidently buoyed by their comeback and were the first to take the initiative in the second half too, picking up where they’d left off after the first 45 minutes and keen to pounce on any mistakes made by Northern Ireland’s somewhat shaken back-line.
The Green and White Army did manage to create chances of their own, with Shiels continuing to impress up front, but it was Finland who deservedly took the lead late in the second half.
Some good build-up play by the away side resulted in Manchester City youngster Ryan McGivern hauling down Finland substitute Riku Riski on the edge of the area. What followed next was something undoubtedly special as Perparim Hetemaj thumped a free kick from distance into the top corner, leaving goalkeeper Lee Camp absolutely no chance of making the save.
And all looked to be lost for Northern Ireland in the closing stages of the game, but they were gifted a shot at redemption on 85 minutes when Paterson was hauled down in the box after being tugged by Joona Tovio as he ran on to a pass. The Burnley forward picked himself up and calmly slotted home the resulting penalty for Northern Ireland’s equaliser to cap off an entertaining night.