Northern Ireland 4-0 Azerbaijan: Michael O'Neill's side go second
By James Walker-Roberts
Last Updated: 12/11/16 11:47am
Northern Ireland moved up to second in World Cup Qualifying Group C with a comfortable 4-0 victory over Azerbaijan on Friday.
Kyle Lafferty fired in the opener after 27 minutes before Gareth McAuley headed in from Chris Brunt's free-kick.
Azerbaijan had not conceded in their first three games but they fell further behind after 66 minutes as Conor McLaughlin headed in from a corner.
Chris Brunt's low shot was then flicked in by Steven Davis to complete a comprehensive win for Michael O'Neill's side.
While there was some debate over whether the final goal should be awarded to Davis or Brunt, there was no doubting that Northern Ireland were worthy winners at a wet Windsor Park.
The victory sees them move level on seven points with Azerbaijan, but ahead on goal difference, and five points behind leaders Germany.
Brunt made his first appearance in 13 months and Lafferty also started as Northern Ireland reverted to 4-4-2.
It was clear from the outset that the hosts were going to cause problems aerially for Azerbaijan's backline.
McLaughlin's right-wing cross was volleyed into the side netting by Shane Ferguson at the back post before Brunt rose above two defenders and headed at the goalkeeper.
When the opening goal did arrive in the 27th minute it was little surprise that it came from a long throw that was flicked on for Lafferty to fire home.
And Northern Ireland showed their strength from set pieces for the second goal as Brunt whipped in a deep free-kick and McAuley powered the header into the net.
Azerbaijan enjoyed their best moments at the start of the second half and forced Michael McGovern into his only save of the match when Deniz Yilmaz was slipped in and saw his shot blocked.
Arif Dashdemirov then fired over the bar as the visitors played with more confidence.
But they could not get back into the game and instead conceded a third when McLaughlin headed home his first international goal from Oliver Norwood's corner.
Davis then saw a low shot saved before getting a slight touch to turn in Brunt's effort from the left corner of the box.
Next up for Northern Ireland in the group is a home match with Norway in March.