Northern Ireland 1 Russia 0: Paterson stuns Capello as
O'Neill claims first win
By John Edwards
Head strong: Martin Paterson rises to score the winner
Michael O'Neill saluted a new-look Northern Ireland side, with the accent
firmly on youth, after they claimed their first win in two years and spared
him an unwanted entry in the record books at a jubilant Windsor Park.
Anything less than a win would have made O'Neill's start as Northern Ireland
boss the worst in their history, eclipsing the nine games it took Peter
Doherty to break his duck in the early 1950s.
O'Neill never looked in danger, as his vibrant young side took the game
to Fabio Capello's Russia and deservedly sealed the points with a 43rd-minute
header from Martin Paterson.
It was their first win since a 2-0 home victory over the Faroe Isles exactly
two years ago, and they did it without the likes of injured striker Kyle
Lafferty, West Brom winger Chris Brunt and Manchester United defender
Jonny Evans, who pulled out with a stomach upset shortly before kick-off.
O'Neill hinted at a new era, after seeing emerging youngsters Jamie Ward
and Oliver Norwood both sieze their opportunities, and while World Cup
qualification may still look a distant hope, there was no mistaking the
Northern Ireland manager's optimism for future campaigns.
'It was a great occasion for us and very satisfying for me personally,'
he said. 'The players were magnificent from start to finish and deserved
'Hopefully you're seeing the the shape of a team that can continue to
develop. Nights like these are invaluable for giving players the belief
they can play at the top level.
'I just think it's so important to see these youngsters putting some pressure
on the older players. We haven't had enough of that in the past.
'Martin Paterson was brilliant, just as he was against Israel, and Jamie
Ward was outstanding, too. I've been around long enough not to get carried
away and starting saying it is a new day. But I know what is in this squad,
and if we can keep the nucleus of it together, things will look bright.'
Clear-cut chances have tended to be in short supply at Windsor Park in
recent times, but Northern Ireland carved out two just before half-time.
The first was squandered, but the second was made to count.
Ward looked sharp throughout and was alive to the possibilities when Daniel
Lafferty rolled a quick free-kick near the centre circle into his path
in the 41st minute.
Sensing an opening, Ward rifled a low 25-yard drive that cannoned back
off a post into the path of a startled Paterson, who scuffed his shot
into keeper Igoe Akinfeev's arms.
There was no mistake from Paterson two minutes later, as Northern ireland
deservedly siezed an advantage that had Fabio Capello prowling the technical
area, arms folded and face like thunder.
Niall McGinn reached the by-line on the right and hooked in a cross that
the leaping Paterson met with a header that was expertly guided past the
Northern Ireland could count themselves unforunate not to double the lead,
when a marginal offside cost Paterson a second goal in the 58th minute.
There was no way back for Capello's subdued side, though, as Northern
Ireland held out with ease and milked the moment for all it was worth
at the end, with an impromptu huddle and dance in the centre circle.