Northern Ireland finally gave their supporters a result to cheer as they ended a poor Euro 2024 qualifying campaign with an impressive 2-0 win over Denmark in Belfast.
Second-half goals from Isaac Price and Dion Charles ensured Michael O’Neill’s men finished the campaign on a high.
Charles hit the post early on before NI goalkeeper Conor Hazard twice made good saves before the break.
The Danes had secured their place in the Euro finals before Monday’s game.
A win over Slovenia on Friday booked Denmark that place in the finals and they rested a few big names for the Windsor Park encounter, with Manchester United pair Rasmus Højlund and Christian Eriksen already missing through injury.
That didn’t make the much-needed victory any less sweet for the Northern Ireland players and supporters, however, with the Green and White Army bursting into life for the majority of the second half.
It had been seven defeats from nine games until Monday night for what has mostly been a young and inexperienced Northern Ireland side throughout this campaign, with their only previous points coming from two wins over minnows San Marino.
Missing a host of key players due to injury, it has been a tough and at times dismal period for manager O’Neill after he was appointed for a second spell in charge with genuine hopes of qualification before the injuries took their toll.
Northern Ireland’s opening goal on 52 minutes came from an excellent passing move from left to right that was finished superbly by Price to deliver a rare high point for the Windsor faithful, who savoured the occasion and generated an atmosphere more reminiscent of O’Neill’s first spell i charge.
Wing-back Jamal Lewis started the move with neat work down the left before playing a nice ball inside to Dion Charles, who in turn found namesake Shea Charles.
With space opening up and the home crowd urging him to shoot, the 20-year-old Southampton midfielder showed all the composure he has become renowned for to slip a cute ball to the right to Price, who beat goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel at his near post with a well-struck, low shot for his second international goal.
The home side’s second arrived nine minutes from time when substitute Conor McMenamin got in down the left and delivered a firm low cross that was met at the back post by Charles, whose double against San Marino in March had got the campaign off to a winning start on O’Neill’s return.
NI make strong start before Danes take charge
Not for the first time in this campaign, Northern Ireland made a positive start to the match, with Dale Taylor and Price working extremely hard in behind frontman Charles in what once again looked like a 5-2-2-1 formation.
With Taylor to the left and Price to the right, Northern Ireland were on the front foot early on and came within inches of taking the lead in the eighth minute.
The Danes failed to clear a long ball over the top and Charles latched on to it, taking a fine first touch before unleashing a low left-foot strike across goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel that looked destined for the bottom corner before hitting the inside of the post and bouncing out.
Two minutes later they threatened again when Bolton Wanderers defender Eoin Toal met a cross by captain-for-the-night Paddy McNair but his header at the back post flew just wide.
Denmark began to take control of the match as the half progressed, with Brentford midfielder Mathias Jensen setting the tempo for tempo for them and starting to play a number of dangerous passes forward.
They had their first effort of note on 24 minutes when Morten Hjulmand’s half-volley from distance flew just over the bar before a shot by Crystal Palace’s Joachim Andersen took a strong deflection off Matthew O’Riley and bounced just wide.
The visitors probably should have taken the lead when Kasper Dolberg slid in to meet a low Victor Kristiansen cross but he seemed lose his bearings and dragged his close-range shot wide.
Conor Hazard, again deputing for the injured Bailey Peacock-Farrell in the home goal, then made two fine saves, the first a superb reaction stop to deny Andersen and the second another great reaction as he had to adjust his feet to save with his legs from a 20-yard Morten Hjulmand strike.
More to follow.
- 2HumeBooked at 33mins
- 14PriceSubstituted forSmythat 78′minutes
- 6SavilleBooked at 28minsSubstituted forThompsonat 82′minutes
- 13TaylorSubstituted forMcMenaminat 78′minutes
- 10CharlesSubstituted forWashingtonat 87′minutes
- 2AndersenBooked at 90mins
- 10O’RileySubstituted forHøjbjergat 61′minutesBooked at 90mins
- 11HjulmandSubstituted forWindat 73′minutes
- 7JensenSubstituted forDelaneyat 61′minutes
- 18LindstrømSubstituted forPoulsenat 56′minutes
- 9DaramySubstituted forVestergaardat 61′minutes
- 17Stryger Larsen
- Jerome Brisard
Match ends, Northern Ireland 2, Denmark 0.