Northern Ireland beat Belarus 2-1 at Windsor Park

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Josh Magennis proved to be Northern Ireland’s hero as he struck against Belarus to hand Northern Ireland a 2-1 at Windsor Park in Belfast to leave them three points clear at the top of qualifying group C.

Northern Ireland started the brighter of the two sides as Kyle Lafferty had the first sight of goal in the game as he got on the end of a Stuart Dallas clipped cross, but his header was weak and sailed straight into the hands of Belarus stopper Andrei Kilmovich.

In what was a quiet opening to the game the first real chance arrived on 20 minutes as Paddy McNair drove into the box before unleashing a powerful effort goalward, but his strike was well parried away by Andrei Klimovich in the Belarus goal.

Kilmovich was called in to action minutes later as he produced another fine save after Lafferty cut inside before powering an effort towards goal that the visting keeper got down quickly to push it away from goal.

However, from the resulting corner Michael O’Neill’s side did take the lead on 29 minutes as Jonny Evans headed in his third international goal with a smart finish following a flick-on by Steven Davis and the Leicester City defender directed his header into the bottom corner out of the reach of the despairing dive of the Belarus keeper.

But the lead was to last all of four minutes as former Arsenal and Barcelona star Alexander Hleb played the ball to Igor Stasevich before he unleashed an effort in on goal it took a huge deflection off Stuart Dallas before looping over Bailey Peacock-Farrell and into the top corner of the net.

Northern Ireland would not let the equaliser distract them as Niall McGinn who was hoping to add to his recent goal tally then created a fantastic chance for himself as the half was drawing to a close as he cut inside from the left but bent his effort over the crossbar in what was the final talking point of the first-half.

O’Neill’s troops started the second half the way they finished the first on top as McNair drove into the box once again but his looping cross to pick out Lafferty was well plucked out of the air by the impressive Klimovich.

It was all Northern Irish pressure in the second period, and they snuffed out another opportunity as the lively Jones dinked a ball into the back-post to find McNair, but his powerful low effort was well blocked by the sliding Stanislav Dragun.

Lafferty then created another fantastic chance for himself as the Rangers striker jinked around the Belarus defence before his low effort was blocked by Pavel Savitski as the Windsor Park faithful claimed handball.

McNair who was proving to be a real handful for Belarus created another big chance on 72 minutes for O’Neill’s men as he drove into the box but his attempt to find Lafferty was cut out and cleared away by Shitov as the home side grew increasingly frustrated.

From the resulting corner the ball fell to the feet of Lafferty, but he could only hook his effort wide from a promising position when he should have hit the target from 6 yards out.  It was Lafferty again who thought he had scored for the home side as Jones whipped in a terrific cross to the near post where Lafferty flicked the ball towards goal however it was with too much power and drifted just ahead of Magennis at the back-post who would have surely scored allowing Belarus to clear their lines.

On 87-minute Magennis was to come to Northern Irelands rescue Craig Cathcart’s long ball forward was brought down by Dallas before he spread the ball into McNair, and he fizzed the ball across the box into the Bolton striker before he fired into the net to send Windsor Park into a frenzy.

However, it was Belarus who created the last two opportunities of the game as Pavel Nekhaychik’s low cross was just about cleared by the fantastic McNair at the near post when Maksim Volodko was lurking to pounce like a Tiger on its prey.

It was then the turn of Peacock-Farrell to come to O’Neill’s sides rescue as he made a superb save from point-blank range to deny Volodko a last gasp equaliser in the third minute of injury time as the young stopper spread himself across the goal to tip the ball wide.

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