Skrtel on target in NI defeat
Northern Ireland kicked off their World Cup qualifying campaign with a 2-1 defeat to Slovakia in Bratislava.
Last Updated: 07/09/08 4:07pm
Northern Ireland kicked off their World Cup qualifying campaign with a disappointing 2-1 defeat to Slovakia in Bratislava.
Twice Nigel Worthington's side were undone by routine Slovakian setpieces in the second half as Liverpool's Martin Skrtel's flicked header was added to by an effort from Marek Hamsik, just seconds after Northern Ireland had what looked to be a legitimate penalty appeal turned away.
When Jan Durica put through his own goal substitute Chris Brunt's cross with nine minutes remaining it looked as though the Irish could pull off a remarkable comeback, but Slovakia stood firm to kick-off their campaign with a much needed three-point haul.
This is the fourth time in a row Northern Ireland have started with a loss, although it was close-run thing on a humid night in Slovakia.
Northern Ireland made a bright start and David Healy stated his intentions as early as the seventh minute when he tried his luck on goal, only to see his effort deflected to safety.
Then a minute later Sammy Clingan sent a 20-yard shot into the body of Slovakia goalkeeper Stefan Senecky.
The hosts again found themselves on the back foot when Chris Baird got on the end of Keith Gillespie's corner but headed wide.
The home crowd screamed for a penalty after 13 minutes when Martin Jakubko went down under a challenge from Stephen Craigan but the referee would have none of it.
The province's tactics were quite clear and they tried to release Healy at every available opportunity. Slovakia thought they had taken the lead two minutes later when Jakubko found the corner with a glancing header. However, his effort was ruled out for offside and Northern Ireland breathed a sigh of relief.
Healy almost put them ahead two minutes from half-time when his effort went beyond Senecky but narrowly wide of the post.
Northern Ireland were rocked in the 46th minute and found themselves a goal down.
Skrtel peeled away from his marker and headed the ball beyond Taylor following a curling free-kick from Marek Sapara.
It was body blow for the province given how assured they had been in the first half. However they hit back and George McCartney got on the end of a corner from Gillespie, only to head high over the crossbar in the 50th minute.
Gillespie, who had been troubled by an ankle injury, then came off and Warren Feeney was drafted into the action.
Martin Paterson then surged forward only to send his shot into the goalkeeper's arms after 64 minutes.
Slovakia were suddenly looking uncomfortable and Senecky flapped at a cross from Aaron Hughes after 66 minutes. Northern Ireland then had loud appeals for a penalty dismissed after a shot from Baird appeared to be handled in the 69th minute before the home side doubled their lead through Hamsik.
Brunt tried his luck from distance in the 80th minute but his effort flew high over the crossbar.
A minute later Northern Ireland grabbed a lifeline thanks to an own goal from Durica, who diverted a cross from Brunt into his own net.
Feeney almost equalised on the stroke of full-time only for Senecky to claw the shot over the crossbar before smothering McCartney's effort.
|Slovakia||Team Statistics||Northern Ireland|
|0||1st Half Goals||0|
|2||Shots on Target||4|
|3||Shots off Target||5|