Sport

Northern Ireland pay the price for missing golden chances

Gavin Whyte missed a number of great opportunities after he was introduced  
Kenny Archer in Stadion Grbavica, Sarajevo

Uefa Nations League Group B3: Bosnia-Herzegovina 2-0 Northern Ireland

IT might have been ‘all white on the night’ but instead it was one letter different for Northern Ireland, regarding the result, not the performance.

It might have been ‘all Whyte on the night’ with another scoring super-sub appearance from Gavin – but he failed to convert two quick-fire chances to equalise, somehow firing against the base of the post with the goal gaping.

A deflected cross from the Oxford United wideman hit the other post late on and George Saville also struck the woodwork when the game was goalless, which how it was destined to remain as far as the visitors were concerned.

Instead, Bosnia again showed their quality and their clinical nature, star striker Edin Dzeko casually netting twice, bringing his international tally to 55 in his 97th appearance.

No one was laughing in the Northern Ireland camp, though, as another defensive error was punished for his first goal, young left-back Jamal Lewis losing his balance and letting Edin Visca find Dzeko to score, back where he started his club career, at the ground of Zeljeznicar Sarajevo.

Manager Michael O’Neill had promised changes from the loss to Austria in Vienna, and they came in both personnel and approach – and also in kit.

A clash of shorts apparently meant NI couldn’t wear their ‘icy blue’ change kit so donned the white Euro 2016 change kit, with white shorts too.

Another positive omen was that Liam Boyce coming into the team in place of Josh Magennis brought the west Belfast man his first competitive start since Azerbaijan away last year – when the visitors also won wearing white, against a team managed by Robert Prosinecki.

The other change from the side that lined out against Bosnia in Belfast was at right-back, a role Paddy McNair appears to have taken over from Conor McLaughlin.

One other alteration - Corry Evans, bringing up his half-century of caps, was handed the captain’s armband, and put in a fine performance.

The home team was announced at least three times by the man on the PA, clearly trying to whip up the crowd in this compact but small stadium – with a capacity even lower than that of Windsor Park.

The atmosphere was noisy, but it was NI who were fired up at first.

It’s hard to begrudge Bosnia any good fortune after what they went through in the Nineties but, by whatever God you believe in, they rode their luck again

As in Belfast, Northern Ireland played with real purpose and penetration from the very first minute. Davis sent George Saville in on the left but his rising shot from an angle went too high.

A lovely break-out move saw the stand-in skipper release the regular armband-wearer, and Davis delivered a sweet centre which Saville met with a superbly-timed run – but an off-target side-footed effort.

The home forwards remained a serious threat, though. When playmaker Pjanic dispossessed Dallas around halfway he then pinged a fabulous cross-field ball to Dzeko’s chest, but the Roma striker then shot over.

That man Saville almost broke the deadlock after 19 minutes but, as in Vienna last Friday night, the woodwork saved the opposition. The men in white pressed up and Norwood swept possession left to Jamal Lewis, whose pinpoint cross was volleyed by Saville beyond Ibrahim Sehic – but back out off the far post.

Bosnia enjoyed even more luck at the other end and this time a goal was the outcome.

Credit to Haris Duljevic for bravely beating a hesitant Jonny Evans to head on a bouncing ball, but the goal was made by Lewis slipping and stumbling, allowing Edin Visca the freedom to pick out his namesake, and Dzeko calmly guided the ball back across a stranded Bailey Peacock-Farrell.

The 32-year-old then netted again within two minutes, but he was well offside, despite the cheers of the Bosnian support turning to jeers.

Another home goal seemed imminent, and again the fanatical supporters roared in celebration – but Pjanic’s whipped free-kick had rippled the roof of the net from the top, not underneath.

The visitors regained their composure and Davis had two shots blocked in quick succession before Dallas’s audacious overhead kick was comfortably caught.

There was still time for a rocket shot just wide from home right-back Ognjen Vranjes, but both sides could go into half-time feeling positive.

The game ebbed and flowed after the re-start but a second goal looked more likely from a blue shirt. Indeed Dzeko was only denied by a combination of Craig Cathcart holding him up and

Peacock-Farrell advancing to stop his shot with his chest.

With the magnificent Miralem Pjanic repeatedly taking the ball off his defence and launched attacks, Bosnia dominated – but Northern Ireland really should have levelled.

Dallas whizzed over a brilliant cross which Whyte shouldered rather than headed down, but it still had to be backed off the line by a desperate defender. The clearance only went as far as Whyte, but with the entire goal to aim at he shot against the post.

Pjanic made the visitors pay again, his laser-guided diagonal ball reaching Dzeko on the left, and he looked almost bored as he brought it down before guiding a curling shot beyond the diving Peacock-Farrell.

There were openings after that for both sides, including a Saville shot saved and a Whyte cross deflected onto the woodwork.

Dzeko showed he’s human by heading over a hat-trick chance late on, but Bosnia look good for promotion while Northern Ireland may go down even if they win their last game at home to Austria.

Bosnia-Herzegovina: Sehic; Vranjes, Sunjic, Zukanovic, Civic; Besic (Cimirot, 89), Saric, Pjanic; Visca (Milosevic, 87), Dzeko, Duljevic (Zakaric, 74).
Substitutes not used: Begovic, Kjosevski, Todorovic, Nastic, Prcic, Bajic, Kodro-Maksumic, Krunic.

Northern Ireland: Peacock-Farrell; McNair (Vassell, 71), Cathcart, J Evans, Lewis; Norwood (Whyte, 55), Saville, Davis; C Evans, Boyce (Magennis, 80), Dallas.
Substitutes not used: Carson, McGovern, McLaughlin, Smith, Ferguson, Jones, Hughes, Flanagan.

Referee: Mattias Gestranius (Finland).

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