Irish secure overdue win
By Chris Stanton
Last Updated: 01/01/70 1:00am
Northern Ireland secured a thoroughly deserved 2-0 victory over Azerbaijan.
Northern Ireland ended a 10-match winless run with a thoroughly deserved 2-0 victory over Azerbaijan at Windsor Park
Stuart Elliott's second half free kick and substitute Warren Feeney's first international goal handed the Irish their first victory at the seventh attempt in World Cup qualifying Group Six.
Northern Ireland will go into Wednesday's meeting with England in good heart but in a match where little more than pride was at stake, the Irish were slow to settle and it was Azerbaijan who took the early initiative.
Long balls into the channels were causing the Irish anxiety and early sorties from Yury Muzika and Zaur Tagizade troubled left back Tony Capaldi. A poor cross-shot from Muzika when well placed spared manager Lawrie Sanchez's blushes.
However, after an uncomfortable opening period, Sanchez's team began to stamp their authority on the Azerbaijanis with Keith Gillespie their most potent threat. His 15th minute cross was met by a James Quinn header but the danger was cleared.
A neat chest down from Quinn was met by David Healy but the Leeds striker shot wide and on the half-hour mark Gillespie again beat his man down the right and supplied Quinn whose diving header was wide of the target.
The best chance of the half arrived five minutes later. The industrious Quinn's lay-off found Steven Davis in space but the Aston Villa midfielder placed his shot a foot wide of the far post when he should have put his side ahead.
Gillespie and Damien Johnson linked up well as the first half drew to a close but neither Quinn nor Healy were able to profit from the Birmingham player's centre.
The second half started in much the same vein as the first period ended with Northern Ireland's ascendancy in possession failing to produce a noteworthy opening until just before the hour.
A boisterous 12,000-strong Windsor Park crowd was sated as Stuart Elliott's superbly executed left-footed free kick found the top left corner of Dmitri Kramarenko's goal to give the Irish the lead.
That breakthrough deflated the Eastern European visitors who were finding it increasingly difficult to negotiate a barrage of crosses, most of which were coming from the right boot of Gillespie. The Sheffield United winger was again the architect in the 71st minute as Elliott almost poached his second but his header flashed wide.
Despite a largely disjointed second period, punctuated only by a series of substitutions, Ireland wrapped up a comfortable victory five minutes from the end with Feeney's well-taken penalty.
The impressive Gillespie was felled by Rafael Amirbekov as he raced into the box leaving the referee no option but to point to the spot with Feeney sending the effort low to Kramarenko's left.
Referee Dejan Stanisic's final whistle signalled jubilation in Belfast with Sanchez celebrating a first home win in charge and a first victory in four years at Windsor Park.
N.Ireland v Azerbaijan click here for player ratings
|Northern Ireland||Team Statistics||Azerbaijan|
|0||1st Half Goals||0|
|3||Shots on Target||0|
|4||Shots off Target||2|