Pole victory boosts NI hopes
Northern Ireland have leapfrogged their opponents with a hard-fought 3-2 victory over Poland at Windsor Park.
By Jamie Casey
Last Updated: 28/03/09 10:47pm
Northern Ireland have leapfrogged their opponents to go temporarily top of Group Three with a hard-fought 3-2 victory over Poland at Windsor Park.
Goals from Warren Feeney, Johnny Evans and a comical own goal from Michal Zewlakow ensured victory for the Northern Irish which puts them top of their qualifying group.
It has been 15 years since Northern Ireland last beat Poland by the same score, but it was an awful showing from the away side which gifted Nigel Worthington victory with Celtic keeper Artur Boruc largely at fault.
The only negative aspect for Worthington is the loss of Chris Brunt for Wednesday's visit of Slovenia. He picked up a yellow card in the second half which rules him out through suspension.
The Poles twice threatened to take points off the home side despite showing no real danger in attack. Goals from Ireneusz Jelen and Marek Saganowski flattered the Poles who were outplayed for large parts of the game.
Feeney almost opened the scoring in the third minute when he raced onto a deflected long ball before flashing a well struck shot wide of Boruc's goal.
David Healy almost took advantage of some disastrous Polish defending five minutes later when he was allowed a free run at goal from the left flank but his curled effort was parried to safety by Boruc.
And the home side were rewarded for their early pressure on 10 minutes when Feeney capitalised on a Boruc misjudgement to stab home into an open net from Damien Johnson's header across the face of goal.
The Windsor Park crowd were in vibrant mood from the beginning which surely had an impact on the players as they stamped their authority on the game from the whistle.
But Worthington's men were cruelly punished for not doubling their advantage on 27 minutes when Jelen latched onto a long hopeful ball, beating Aaron Hughes for pace and firing past Maik Taylor in the Poles' first meaningful attack of the match.
The sucker-punch clearly silenced the home fans and the game was momentarily stopped two minutes after the equaliser when the referee's assistant was struck by a coin thrown from a Northern Ireland section of the crowd.
Healy was lucky to escape a booking in the 41st minute after kicking out at Poland's Marcin Wasilewski as the hosts continued to let their frustrations get the better of them.
The Polish defence continued their first-half calamity show when on the stroke of half-time Zewlakow passed directly into Feeney's path, but the on-loan Dundee United striker could not hit the target with his effort.
Northern Ireland started the second half in very much the same fashion as they did the first and were rewarded almost immediately as Johnny Evans reacted first to poke home Grant McCann's corner from six yards on 47 minutes to regain the lead for the home side.
It was not all positive in the early stages of the second half though as Brunt picked up a yellow card for fouling Robert Lewandowski and he will miss Wednesday's qualifier with Slovenia.
Boruc was guilty of a ludicrous error on 61 minutes when he allowed Zewlakow's back-pass to bobble into an empty net as his mis-kick clearance attempt gifted Northern Ireland a third goal.
It was a cruel bobble but the big Pole had more than enough time for a touch and his lack of concentration effectively sealed his team's fate.
Gareth McAuley almost added a fourth when he headed over the bar from another excellent corner delivered by the impressive Grant McCann.
Substitute Saganowski went closest for Poland in the second half with just 12 minutes remaining as he headed wide Guerreiro's cross from six yards when he seemed certain to score.
Saganowski eventually pulled a goal back for the Poles in stoppage time with a delightful diving header from Jakub Wawrzyniak's cross to ensure a nervy ending for the home side.
But Worthington's men hung on to take all three points which keeps them very much in the hunt for qualification.
|Northern Ireland||Team Statistics||Poland|
|1||1st Half Goals||1|
|4||Shots on Target||4|
|8||Shots off Target||8|