Northern Ireland: Fine margins, magic McGinn and spot on Bara – Five things we noticed in Bosnia win


Kyle Lafferty scores from the spot
Kyle Lafferty nets his first NI goal since 2016…sort of

Phew! Northern Ireland made it through to the Euro 2020 play-off final after a nail-biting encounter with Bosnia-Herzegovina in Sarajevo.

For the first time, NI were involved in a shootout and subsequently delivered after a 1-1 draw against a heavily-fancied Bosnian side, which contained the star names of Edin Dzeko and Miralem Pjanic.

It was the perfect night for Steven Davis, who celebrated the win as he became Northern Ireland’s record appearance holder.

With Slovakia now standing in their way, here are five things we noticed from the game as Ian Baraclough picked up his first win as Northern Ireland boss.

Fine Margins

Jonny Evans slips at one end, Ibrahim Sehic pulls off an absolute wonder save at the other.

There are fine margins between making it to major finals and missing out and, as Northern Ireland fans have discovered in the past, those small moments often lead to heartbreak.

However, just like the Romania game in September, Northern Ireland dug deep and got a deserved equaliser through Niall McGinn, taking the game to the hosts and edging the shootout with some ice-cool kicks.

It’s about time Steven Davis and co were on the receiving end of some good fortune. Long may it continue.

Niall McGinn popped up with another important goal for Northern Ireland
Niall McGinn popped up with another important goal for Northern Ireland

McGinn loves a big goal

Hungary. Ukraine. Bosnia.

Niall McGinn doesn’t score many goals for Northern Ireland, but when he does they tend to be important ones.

A few eyebrows were raised by some sections of the Green and White Army when McGinn appeared on the teamsheet, but the Aberdeen man repaid the faith from his manager in some style.

His goal had a little bit of everything. Dogged determination and a deadly finish, the 33-year-old was superb across the park.

It was an important goal which handed Northern Ireland a lifeline, and crucially, gave Baraclough’s men a platform to build from in the second half. An excellent showing from one of the experienced heads in the squad.

Peacock-Farrell steps up

After conceding five at home to Norway, Bailey Peacock-Farrell rediscovered his form from the Romania game to help Northern Ireland across the line in Sarajevo.

Despite conceding the opener, the Burnley man pulled off a fantastic save to deny Rade Krunic, then another from Miralem Pjanic, then he stopped Amir Hadziahmetovic before keeping Edin Visca out in extra time.

He was the hero in the shootout too, pulling off an excellent stop to keep out Haris Hajradinovic and put Northern Ireland on the front foot.

Still only 23 years old and finally getting game time at Turf Moor, Peacock-Farrell is swiftly turning into a trusted pair of hands and could occupy the number one shirt for years to come.

NI celebrate their penalty success
Liam Boyce only needed one touch to send Northern Ireland through

Loud and proud

How nice was it to hear actual real-life fans at a football match once again?

Roughly 1,500 found their way into the Stadion Grbavica, and although they were all cheering on the men in blue, it created a much-missed atmosphere for the game.

Thankfully, Northern Ireland fans won’t have to wait long before they are back in Windsor Park, with the IFA announcing 600 of the supporters will be in attendance for Sunday’s Nations League game against Austria.

An empty Windsor Park on an international night is a bizarre sight, as the game against Norway showcased, so with all the uncertainty surrounding Covid-19 in the current climate it will be a welcome sight to see the Green and White Army in the National Stadium once again.

Crucially – and this is a big ‘if’ – the possibility of having the GAWA in the ground for the play-off final is a tantalising prospect. Hopefully that is something that comes to fruition.

Spot on Bara

Bar Saville’s wild attempt, Northern Ireland were superb in their first-ever shootout and, yet again, Baraclough has to take a huge amount of credit for his late substitutions.

Trusting Conor Washington and Liam Boyce to tuck away decisive kicks with their first touches of the game was a massive call and he showed huge faith in his front men.

The duo delivered and it is hard to stress how big a result that is after the Norway nightmare last month.

Steven Davis and Stuart Dallas, who somehow was the first man to celebrate with Boyce despite playing 120 minutes, were also both outstanding and Baraclough, who nailed his tactical decisions, will be hoping his side can kick on from here.

Now Northern Ireland are one step away from another major finals. Can they dare to dream once more?

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