Michael O’Neill’s men were left very frustrated after their 2-1 defeat at home to Bosnia & Herzegovina in their inaugural Nations League game.
Northern Ireland dominated possession from the off and were denied a penalty in the first minute of the game when George Saville was brought down by Ervin Zukanovic. The deadlock was broken in the 37th minute when Bosnia’s Edin Dzeko got a cross in from the left and Haris Duljevic tapped it in from close range with debutant Bailey Peacock Farrell unable to stop it. Northern Ireland are known for their strong defence, but the visitors pounced on this defensive error by McLaughlin and Craig Cathcart much to the dismay of the home fans. Northern Ireland weren’t without chances, Niall McGinn tested Ibrahim Sehic when he cut in from the right with a straight shot before McLaughlin’s low cross narrowly missed Saville. Next to take a chance was Davis who hit it over the bar and later Jonny Evans weak header was easily saved by Sehic.
Northern Ireland continued to dominate in the second half but Craig Cathcart’s dismal header back in the 64th minute allowed Elvis Saric room to nick the ball through Bailey Peacock Farrell’s legs to double the visitors advantage. This didn’t stop Northern Ireland pressing on and creating chances including Kyle Lafferty’s back post shot that was denied by Sehic and Liam Boyce’s one-on-one chance. Will Grigg finally bagged a consolation goal for Northern Ireland in injury time from a Liam Boyce cross followed by a near leveller when debutant Lewis headed the ball to Griggs in the box, but it was just a shy of goal.
Manager Michael O’Neill spoke honestly after game saying; “We’ve played a lot worse and won. To have the level of domination we had in the game, the level of possession, it’s a sore one. It’s a good lesson as well because I think it shows the nature of international football, you do get punished.” However he was quick to point out that he that although it was a “sore loss” after having 67% possession in the game, his players showed tenacity and resilience to keep creating chances till the end.
“I said to them, in the past, Northern Ireland teams may have gone under in that situation, but not this group of players. They showed their capability to go right to the whistle and they should be commended for that.”
Northern Ireland are back at it tomorrow evening when they host Israel at Windsor Park for a friendly tomorrow evening at 7.45pm