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Northern Ireland 0-2 Slovakia: Clinical Finishing The Difference At Windsor Park

Northern Ireland were looking to maintain the pressure on their rivals after the positive result they earned away to Poland at the weekend. Tonight’s opponents at Windsor Park, Slovakia, went into this clash top of Group 3 on 16 points and hoping to all but confirm their tickets to the World Cup.

Nigel Worthington was forced into making one change, drafting in the services of Burnley striker Martin Paterson after Kyle Lafferty, hero against the Poles, acquired a knee injury in the 1-1 draw. Marek Hamsik was banned for the Slovaks.

It was nervy start for the visitors in front of 14,500 fanatical Northern Ireland fans; Sunderland striker David Healy recording the home side’s opening effort within the first couple of minutes. Slovakia began to settle soon after with Jonny Evans having to clear a ball that prevented Vittek from an unobstructed run on goal. The deadlock was broken minutes later when plucky midfielder Vladimir Weiss evaded the challenge of Evans and supplied a cross for Stanislav Sestak to tap into the net.

Northern Ireland came close to an equaliser on 27 minutes from a well-worked free kick that resulted in Healy this time putting his effort wide. There were no further chances leading up to the break with the home side failing in their rather feeble attempts to breach a regimented Slovak defence

With neither team making any half-time changes the onus was on the home side to push forward and they didn’t disappoint. Steven Davis on the Irish right saw his cross met by Damien Johnson, who headed high and over the bar. Moments later, Paterson forced a brave save from Jan Mucha following a Martin Skrtel slip.

Goalscorer Sestak was replaced by the Filip Holosko who, against the run of play, added his name to the score sheet shortly after coming on. He latched onto a long ball and managed to avoid the attentions of Aaron Hughes before hammering a shot past Maik Taylor. This came as a bitter blow to Northern Ireland, who had almost levelled moments before from a snap shot by Paterson, but he was again denied by the impressive Mucha.

Niall McGinn almost made a similar impact from the bench as Holosko had for Slovakia, but his curling long-range attempt only clipped the frame of the goal. Slovakia themselves repeated the feat deep into stoppage time.

It was a frustrating night for the home side, who seemed to miss the 6ft 4in frame of Kyle Lafferty. Numerous crosses from both open play and set plays failed to pick out a man and were more often than not, easily cleared by the visitors. Slovakia looked solid throughout, with Weiss in particular posing a constant threat.

Adrian Fisk, UK