MX23RW : Saturday, December 15 01:06:47
May 27, 2016 at 7.45pm UK at ​Windsor Park
Northern Ireland
Lafferty (6'), Washington (44'), Grigg (88')
FT(HT: 2-0)

Live Commentary: Northern Ireland 3-0 Belarus - as it happened

Relive Sports Mole's live text coverage of Northern Ireland's 3-0 win over Belarus as the hosts racked up an 11th match without defeat.

Northern Ireland beat Belarus 3-0 at Windsor Park on Friday evening to kick-start their Euro 2016 party in style.

A pair of first-half strikes from Kyle Lafferty and Conor Washington put the hosts on their way, before Will Grigg came off the bench to add number three late on.

In a match that struggled to truly get going, the Green & White Army managed to take each chance that came their way to stretch their unbeaten run into an 11th game just a fortnight from the Euro finals.

Relive how the 90 minutes of action unfolded with Sports Mole's live text coverage below.

6.45pmHello and welcome to Sports Mole's live text coverage of the international friendly meeting between Northern Ireland and Belarus at Windsor Park. This is the Green & White Army's final match on home soil before heading off for the European Championship finals, meaning one final chance for certain fringe players to impress before the final 18-man squad is announced this weekend.

6.47pmManager Michael O'Neill has claimed that he is already set on the 18 players he will take with him to next week's warm-weather training camp in Austria, and indeed the finals themselves the following week in France, but with one final match ahead many players will be hoping to make one final lasting impression. It is not all that often an opportunity such as this comes along after all!

6.49pmNext month's Euros will mark first major tournament that Northern Ireland have made it to in 30 years, in fact, putting an end to their three-decade hoodoo by qualifying from their group in some style in the most recent campaign. Despite being plucked out of pot five, the Green & White Army finished at the summit and will rightly strut their stuff in France over the coming month.

6.51pmPlaced in a group alongside Romania, Greece, Hungary, Finland and the Faroe Islands, O'Neill was hoping to galvanise his players to earn a third-place finish and a place in the playoffs. The bloated format of this year's Euros gave sides such as Ireland a chance to believe once more, but little did supporters know that they would be about to embark on such a memorable qualification campaign. Forget finishing third; forget second, even - top spot was secured to give fans even more reason to smile.

6.53pmIn a recent interview, O'Neill admitted that finishing in an automatic qualification berth was beyond even his own expectations, with the aim being to put together a group of players able to challenge for a top-three finish with an eye towards the World Cup 2018 campaign. That is only half the battle, of course, because the vast majority of the rumoured 30,000 supporters travelling south this summer will now expect to progress out of a group containing Poland, Ukraine and world champions Germany.

6.55pmThat is not an easy group to say the least, with Northern Ireland very much pulling the short straw in December's draw. They will make the trip to France in a buoyant mood, though, having now gone 10 games without defeat across both friendly and competitive fixtures. You can never write-off the importance of momentum in football - just ask Leicester City! - so O'Neill will now be desperate to keep the positive results ticking over in these final two warm-up matches.

6.57pmThis current 10-match unbeaten run stretches back 14 months now to March 2015, with results since then forming a bizarre pattern. The Green & White Army's record has taken a parallel feel - DWDWDWDW - suggesting that we are in for a stalemate this evening. This is not the Irish nation's final warm-up fixture, incidentally, as they also face Slovakia in Trnava a week before getting the serious business underway at the finals.

6.59pmBefore then comes the week-long training camp in Austria, designed to get the players up to full fitness ahead of a gruelling fortnight of fixtures in the group stage. Like in qualifying, finishing third in the group could also see Northern Ireland progress, so simply outdoing one of Ukraine or Poland will likely be the aim. It all kicks off in Nice on June 12 with a potentially pivotal meeting against Poland - win that and who knows?

7.01pmDID YOU KNOW? Northern Ireland have won just three of their last 10 friendly matches at Windsor Park, although two of those victories have come in their last three outings. Furthermore, the Green & White Army have only scored more than once on one occasion in their last 23 friendly matches - a 3-3 draw with Finland in August 2012.

7.03pmThose two recent home wins in friendly competition came against Slovenia and Latvia - not the strongest of opposition, granted, but certainly tough enough tests to gear up ready for the Euros. Ireland also drew away at Wales in March in what was a largely forgettable affair; throwing away a lead late on in that one when Simon Church tucked away from the penalty spot to earn his side a credible draw.

7.05pmNorthern Ireland picked up a 1-1 draw against Wales in Cardiff last time out, throwing away a lead late on in a game that neither manager could take too much away from. That came midway between the Euro 2016 draw and the finals themselves, though, whereas the two upcoming fixtures now have far more meaning with preparations stepping up towards that opening match against Poland in Nice on June 12.

Craig Cathcart of Northern Ireland holds off David Cotterill of Wales during the international friendly match on March 24, 2016© Getty Images

7.06pmThe team news has now officially been released at Windsor Park, so let us check out how the two sides look for this international friendly showdown...

7.08pmTEAM NEWS!

NORTHERN IRELAND XI: Carroll, McLaughlin, J. Evans, Baird, Davis, Lafferty, Washington, C. Evans, Dallas, McNair, Cathcart

BELARUS XI: Harbunov, Shytau, Martynovich, Filipenko, Valadzko, Korzun, Krivets, Kisliak, Hardzeichuk, Stasevich, Yanush

7.10pmNot too many surprises as far as the home side are concerned, then, with the big news coming up top where Kyle Lafferty is handed his 50th cap. The in-form forward - at international level, at least - bagged seven goals in qualifying as he proved to be one of the most influential players in Europe alongside Wales forward Gareth Bale. Another tonight to add to his growing tally really would make it a night to remember.

7.12pmThere is also a place up front for Connor Washington, who will play alongside Lafferty from the off. It is a big night for the striker, who has burst onto the scene ever since breaking through with Newport a couple of years back. That partnership is certainly one to keep an eye on, but it is very much Lafferty who will be carrying most of the weight in France next month.

7.14pmCorry Evans, Jonny Evans and Chris Baird both start, meanwhile, but Will Grigg - a man in the public psyche at the moment due to that catchy chant - and McAuley are both among the home side's back-up options. Expect to see O'Neill chop and change things as the match goes on, with just 180 minutes remaining to experiment before the real thing begins in a little over two weeks' time.

7.16pmIn terms of the visitors, they are without striker Kryliya Sovetov - a player who scored four times in the Russian Premier League last season. Andrey Harbunow, currently plying his trade at club level with Atromitos in Greece, earns cap number seven this evening. It is a tough night ahead for Belarus, but they will see this as a chance to pull of a surprise result and earn a draw.

7.18pmAlyaksandr Khatskevich's charges are not in bad form themselves, in fact, having drawn each of their last three matches. All three of those games - against Macedonia, Armenia and Montenegro - finished goalless, suggesting that the home side may find it difficult to get in behind this evening. A set of credible draws, then, but can the Eastern European outfit make it four stalemates on the bounce at Windsor Park? That's one way to ruin the party!

7.20pmBelarus are currently ranked at 77 in the world, more than 50 places below their opponents who have enjoyed a real climb up the rankings in recent times. That leaves them behind the likes of Uganda, Benin and Uzbekistan, although tonight is not so much about the quality of the opposition for Ireland but more so learning lessons from the style of play. O'Neil said as much, in fact, when admitting that this fixture was hand-picked to acclimatise ahead of facing Poland and Ukraine.

7.22pmThere are further lessons to be learned, too, as Belarus were pitted in the same qualifying group as Ukraine. Tonight's visitors finished fourth in that group, behind heavyweights Spain, Slovakia and indeed Ukraine. Khatskevich's men have actually lost just one of their last five away friendly matches, however, while also losing only one of their last eight non-competitive fixtures overall.

7.24pmWindsor Park, pictures here in colder times, has proved to be a happier hunting ground for Northern Ireland of late. They have won each of their last two matches here, coming against Slovenia and Latvia, having previously won one of the previous seven. Their defensive record here is not great, though, with goals being shipped in eight of their last 10 home friendlies.

Snow covers Windsor Park pitch and stadium in Belfast, Northern Ireland, on March 22, 2013© Getty Images

7.26pmIn terms of Belarus's long-term record, they head to Belfast with a record that reads six wins from their last 26 - far from a great record but certainly not terrible, either, when factoring in draws. They fell short in qualifying, as already touched upon, with five of their 10 competitive matches ending in defeat to see them miss out on the top-three finish that they would have been aiming for.

7.28pmThose three goalless draws on the spin, spanning some 500 minutes of playing time, certainly suggests that they can form a compact shape, but will Lafferty and striker partner Washington have what it takes to open up the defensive unit? Only time will tell on that front, though this does look like it could be a banana skin fixture of sorts for the home team, who will have one eye on the finals.

7.30pmPREVIOUS MEETINGS! This is actually the first ever UEFA-recognised fixture between these two sides. Belarus have only been around in their own right since 1990, however, after disbanding from the Soviet Union and being granted permission to enter the qualification process. They have entered 11 campaigns since then, failing to reach any major tournament during that time.

7.32pmThat task will not get any easier for Khatskevich and his men, however, as they have been placed in a group with France, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Bulgaria and Sweden for World Cup 2018 qualifying - as close to a group of death that you are going to get. That next campaign gets underway in September, but before than Belarus have two more friendly matches - tonight's Belfast showdown before a short trip south to face the Republic of Ireland next week.

7.34pmPREDICTION! If nothing else, Belarus have proved to be incredibly tough to break down in recent outings as they have now gone three games without shipping a single goal. The visitors have also scored in six of their last 10 away matches, compared to their opponents' record of conceding in eight of their last 10 overall, but Northern Ireland - still on a real high - will fancy their chances in this final home friendly before the Euros.

7.36pmWith less than 10 minutes to go until kickoff, let us now check out some of the pre-match thoughts from the home manager Michael O'Neill heading into this friendly match.

"Tonight isn't about trying to give somebody an opportunity to clinch their place in the squad. I've known the majority of the make-up of the squad since qualification. As opposed to coming out and naming a 23-man squad 10 days ago, the purpose of the two weeks was to actually give those players an opportunity.

"We have a number of players who haven't played as much first-team football as I would like. I had to assess them somehow. If you can't see them playing for their clubs, how do you assess them? Those players had played a part in the campaign, some more than others, so it was important they still felt an involvement in it and we brought them together."

7.38pmSo O'Neill reiterating there that he already knows the 23 players he plans to take to France. The Northern Ireland boss will officially announce his squad at some stage tomorrow, cutting five men from the current panel before heading off to Austria and then Slovakia. All systems go for the Green & White Army, then, and they will be heavily backed all the way this summer.

7.40pmThe players have now made their way out onto the field of play at Windsor Park ahead of kickoff, which is around five minutes away now. First we will have the national anthems in Belfast, starting with visiting side Belarus, before a rendition of Good Save the Queen. A real good atmosphere starting to build up now!

7.42pmWe have now had the pre-match handshakes at Windsor Park and are pretty much good to go now. Martin Atkinson the man in the middle this evening, incidentally - one of England's officials at the European Championships. Michael O'Neill wanted a party atmosphere this evening, so now it is down to the players to deliver.

7.44pmKyle Lafferty, who played a key role in Euro 2016 qualifying by bagging seven goals, earns his 50th cap for Northern Ireland this evening. We are now just a minute or so from kickoff in Belfast.

Kyle Lafferty (R) of Northern Ireland and Niklas Moisander (L) of Finland in action during the EURO 2016 Group F qualifier at Windsor Park on March 29, 2015© Getty Images

1 minKICKOFF! An awkward delivery is whipped into the box, which Lafferty is quick to get to. He went in a little too wildly, though, bundling over the Belarus keeper to concede a free kick with the first attack of the match. Good early tempo from the home side.

3 minBelarus actually keeping the ball well at the moment, containing their opponents by knocking the ball around in their own half. Recent results suggest that the visitors are happy to soak up the pressure - not great for the neutral but fairly effective as far as they are concerned.

5 minIreland's turn to keep hold of the ball now, slowly working their way up the field. McLaughlin is high up the pitch on the right, but unable to really get the better of his man over the past few minutes.


7 minBelarus may have gone 500 minutes without conceding a goal heading into this game, but it has taken Northern Ireland just five to find a way through. It was by no means a classic Lafferty strike, although he will certainly take it - 17 goals for him now in 50 appearances. Dallas put a cross into the box from the left, which the visitors simply did not deal with and Lafferty was there five yards out to prod home.

9 minIt will be interesting to see how Belarus respond to that setback. A fourth goalless draw on the spin would surely be seen as a positive result for a side ranked at 77th in the world, but they will now have to come out of their shells a little to find a way through.

11 minRoy Carroll called into action for the first time this evening, as he plucks a simple cross out of the air. Far too straightforward for O'Neill's side thus far, with their only chance of the match leading to a breakthrough goal.

13 minBelarus are starting to show more attacking intent, without really making any sort of impression in the final third of the pitch. I would say it has been perfect preparation for the hosts, but they will want more of a challenge as this one transpires.

15 minThe match is being played at a fairly pedestrian pace at the moment, but Ireland's front players are working hard to close down the opposition defence when in possession. The Will Grigg chant now being belted around Windsor Park. If you haven't heard it, get straight on Youtube.

17 minGorbunov just about gets to a long ball over the top before Lafferty can get a touch. Still just the one shot so far this evening, which ended with the opening goal of the contest. Less than a quarter of the way through, though, so expect that to change.

19 minJonny Evans wins his side a free kick in an advanced position, allowing skipper Steven Davis to swing the ball into the box with his right foot. It is curled right into the hands of Gorbunov, who quickly launched the ball in an attempt to start a rare attack for the visitors.

21 minSHOT! Dallas, who will be credited with the assist for Lafferty's goal, is the latest to win a free kick in a left-sided position. Again Davis swings it in, and this time the delivery is much better and sets up just the second chance of the game. Chris Baird met it at the back post, firing away a shot that was blocked aside.

23 minIt has been all Ireland over the past 10 minutes or so, with the hosts now stepping things up a gear in search for a second. After making the breakthrough so early on you would have put money on the Green and white Army getting a second, but they scored just four in their previous 10 friendlies before tonight.

25 minCLOSE! Belarus win their first corner of the match, which Yanush gets on the end of at the front post. He looked to glance it into the far corner with his head, but it ended a few inches over the bar. A little warning for the hosts, that.

27 minReally poor from Belarus, who knock the ball around before punting it over the top and straight out of play. Not a lot for supporters to cheer about so far, other than Lafferty's goal six minutes in at Windsor Park that separates the two teams.

29 minAround half-hour into the match now and I would say we have had just the one real chance, which led to Lafferty's goal early on. Belarus have come close with a glancing front-post header, while Baird saw his shot blocked inside the box from the only other half-chance.

31 minSHOT! Davis picks out Lafferty's run into the box, but the striker sees his first-time shot blocked away in front of goal. The volley was certainly goal-bound if not for the vital intervention. The one real criticism is that Gorbanov has had so little to do thus far.

33 minSome over-elaborate play in the hosts' box allows Carroll to pounce on the ball. Belarus just showing signs that maybe they can offer some sort of attacking threat as this one progresses, although that is unlikely to be anytime soon at this rate!

35 minA cross into the box is chested over for a corner, with full-back Shitov taking no chances. Davis swings in the latest set-piece delivery, which is headed towards the edge of the box before eventually being cleared away with a succession of headers.

37 minWell I would certainly take half time right about now if offered it, with this match struggling to take off. The good news for Ireland is that they lead 1-0, but O'Neill will want them to step it up a little more in the second half in an attacking sense.

39 minWe have still seen just two attempts all evening - the first ending in the back of the net via Lafferty's boot and the second being glanced over the bar by Belarus forward Yanus. Things can only get better, surely?!

41 minBelarus just shading things in terms of possession, albeit by just a single per cent. Very much job done as far as the hosts are concerned in this first half, so it would be wrong to be too critical, but there are certainly a few more goals out there tonight.

43 minSome rare sustained pressure for the visitors ultimately comes to nothing, meaning the Green and White Army now have just two more minutes to see through before the interval. Not expecting referee Martin Atkinson to add on any additional time.


45 minA goal at the start of the half and one to see out the opening 45 minutes, too. Gorbunov had an absolute howler, failing to collect a dimple Dallas cross from the left which allowed Washington to nod into an empty goal for his second goal in three caps. Some going for him!


8.33pmSo Northern Ireland take a comfortable, albeit slightly undeserved, two-goal lead into the break. There is no disputing that the hosts have been by far the better side so far at Windsor Park, but they have had just two shots on target all night - both leading to goals.

8.36pmLafferty opened the scoring six minutes in, prodding home from close range after a Dallas cross from the left was not dealt with by the opposition defence. It took until the 21-minute mark before the next shot of any note arrived, as Baird found the ball at his feet at the back post from a Davis delivery but could only blast into a visiting player.

8.39pmBelarus's only real chance of note fell to Yanush on the half-hour mark, but he could only glance a corner a few inches over the bar when picked out unmarked towards the front post. Lafferty had another shot blocked as the half wore on, although the second goal did arrive in the final minute of play when another howler from the visitors - this time from the keeper - allowed Washington to pounce by heading home.

8.42pmIt has been far too comfortable for Northern Ireland in the first half, as they lead Belarus 2-0 at the break without really breaking into a sweat. Goals at the beginning and end of the opening 45 minutes, provided by strike duo Lafferty and Washington, have put the hosts on course for another home win.

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill after the Euro 2016 Qualifier between Northern Ireland and Faroe Islands at Windsor Park on October 11, 2014© Getty Images

46 minRESTART! We are back underway in Belfast, with news of a couple of changes to bring you. Ray Carroll and Steven Davis have both made way for Oliver Norwood and Alan Mannus for this second half.

48 minPaddy McNair controls the ball well on the edge of the box but can only blast high into the stands with the subsequent shot. The message from O'Neill at the break was quite clear - look to test the opposition keeper or more occasions than witnessed in the first half.

50 minA few challenges going in now as the intensity rises just a little. Belarus not found the net in their last three outings, remember, so it could well be a breeze for the hosts in the remaining 40 minutes of this final home friendly before the Euros.

52 minSAVE! We are now 52 minutes into the match and the first save has been made. Syarhey Kislyak with a rather tame effort, but Mannus had to get behind it down low to keep hold and deny the opposition a route back into the game.

54 minNot sure quite how much O'Neill has learned from this game so far, other than the fact that Washington has the ability to pounce on mistakes much like strike partner Lafferty. Just a case of going through the motions now as far as the home side are concerned.

56 minBelarus have offered barely anything all evening, but they have had more shots on target than their opponents in this second half - one! Hopefully the hour mark sees the introduction of a few more fresh legs.

58 minYELLOW CARD! Jonny Evans and Syarhey Kislyak are both shown a yellow card by referee Martin Atkinson, and to further disrupt the flow of the match it looks as though O'Neill will make a couple more changes before the Ireland free kick can come in.

60 minNORTHERN IRELAND SUBS! Grigg and Ward are on in place of goalscorers Lafferty and Washington. No question that O'Neill is looking to experiment now, having taken off two of his most influential players of the evening.

62 minThe home fans used that introduction of Grigg to start their party, but the players not really feeding off the atmosphere at the moment. A third for Northern Ireland would round things off nicely, and they still have a third of the match to find it.

64 minKyle Lafferty scored seven times in Euro 2016 qualifying, and also has one to his name this evening. Conor Washington added the other, but both players have now been taken off.

Northern Ireland's Kyle Lafferty in action against Azerbaijan on November 14, 2012© Getty Images

66 minCHANCE! Not the biggest of chances for Grigg, but an opening nonetheless as a free kick finds its way to him at the back post. He connects with the ball but could not truly test Gorbunov with an attempt down the middle.

68 minJust constant Ireland pressure at the moment but they are still struggling to get shots on target. Just the one this half, and three all evening, yet it is they who hold a commanding lead heading into the final 22 minutes. Belarus's impressive five-match run without conceding is long gone.

70 minIreland head off to Austria next week before facing Slovakia in their final friendly match. It will be interesting to see what starting lineup O'Neill will go with in that one, needing to find a balance between experimenting but also giving his players playing time ahead of the opening Euros fixture.

72 minIt has, in many ways, been the classic international friendly. Not a great deal of entertainment, but a chance for both managers to get their players out on the field. O'Neill looks to be readying another change as we head into the final quarter of the match.

74 minNORTHERN IRELAND SUBS! Make that two changes, in fact, as Corry Evans and Stuart Dallas make way for McGinn and Hughes. Running out of players to come on the field at this rate, as O'Neill looks to give every member of his bloated squad a run-out.

76 minCHANCE! Another half-chance for the visitors, this time for substitute Hleb who capitalised on McGinn's near-costly slip to race in behind, but the ball just got away from him which allowed Mannus to pounce and end the danger.

78 minAtmosphere is very flat at Windsor Park now - not all that surprising based on events unfolding on the pitch. Belarus looking the better side over the past few minutes, in fact, but the latest cross into the box comes to nothing.

80 minWe are now into the final 10 minutes of the match and in truth there is no sign of a third goal. Grigg so nearly gets in behind only to get bundled over out near the right touchline, with the resultant free kick being helped on but just out of Jonny Evans' reach.

82 minSome patient build-up play from Belarus which should be applauded, but they just need to speed things up if they are to take anything from this game. A goal will be a good starting point for Khatskevich and his men, who have been undone by two lapses in concentration at the back.

84 minGood play from Ward down the left flank, but his cross into a central position is turned away by a red shirt. Belarus unable to really pin their opponents back, as Northern Ireland continue to do all that is required to get over the line.

86 minIreland showing that they will certainly be tough to break down in France, although they perhaps would have wanted more of a challenge in that regard this evening. Belarus created next to nothing, which is largely down to a lack of creativity.


89 minYet another absolute howler at the back as far as the visitors are concerned, as the tamest of crosses is simply not dealt with. Will Grigg was well positioned to make the most of the chance, smashing home from a central position to spark scenes of joy in Belfast.


9.36pmThe full-time whistle sounds at Windsor Park, bringing to a close another special night for Northern Ireland. It was far from a classic match, with the hosts' only three chances ending with the ball in the back of the net, but it was very much job done as far as Michael O'Neill and his men are concerned.

9.38pmThat concludes Sports Mole's live text coverage of events from Belfast, but be sure to check out this on-the-whistle match report before heading off. Reaction from Windsor Park, as well as other international matches from across Europe this evening, is to follow in due course. Thanks for joining!

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Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill at the BBC Sports Personality of the Year awards 2015.
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