Viking hell - Northern Ireland hammered by Haaland's Norway
Uefa Nations League B1: Northern Ireland 1-5 Norway
Field-Marshal Alexander, Edward Carson, Rory McIlroy, Kate Hoey, Van Morrison, Carl Frampton, Ruby Murray, Arlene Foster - can you hear me Arlene Foster? Your boys took one hell of a beating. Your boys took one hell of a beating.
One could either laugh or cry. 15 years to the day from the famous victory over England this win wasn’t going to inspire another gleeful roll call of taunts from a Norwegian commentator.
Defeat to Norway hasn’t been embarrassing for a long time, especially a talented team like this one, but the nature of this loss was still pretty appalling.
To some extent the outcome wasn’t exactly surprising, however: combine the hottest young centre-forward in world football and a £9million pound fellow forward with a makeshift back four and you have a recipe for disaster.
Norway, Erling Braut Haaland et al, duly took advantage of Northern Ireland’s dodgy defence and won yet again at Windsor Park, as they had done on five previous occasions, scoring 16 goals in the process.
This was meant to be a memorable night for home captain Steven Davis, equalling Pat Jennings’s caps record of 119 – but not even 119 seconds had elapsed before the visitors went ahead, through Celtic’s Mohamed Elyounoussi.
Even had Big Pat in his prime joined Bailey Peacock-Farrell in nets Haaland would probably still have scored one or two. Two he got, as did Alexander Sorloth, who’s on loan to Turkish side Trabzonspor from Crystal Palace.
Paddy McNair netted an equaliser early on but it never looked likely that the hosts would record their first win in the Nations League.
Admittedly, hopes weren’t high when the team was announced. There were three changes to the team which had battled back, but that didn’t include Jonny Evans coming in, the Leicester player absent from the squad entirely. So too left-back Jamal Lewis, understood to be undergoing a medical ahead of a transfer to Newcastle United.
Shane Ferguson came in on the left side for him, with Michael Smith brought in at right-back, and Jordan Thompson – recently signed for Stoke City by former NI boss Michael O’Neill - into midfield, in place of Corry Evans, with the suspended Josh Magennis also obviously missing after his red card in Bucharest.
Norway also made three alterations to the side beaten 2-1 at home by Austria in their opener. Celtic’s Kristoffer Ajer was called up into central defence, Markus Henriksen in central midfield, and Alexander Sorloth up front, with Tore Reginiussen, Sander Berge, and Josh King the men omitted.
Less than two minutes in the problems began for the hosts. Smith, usually so solid, strangely just watched a high ball from visiting skipper Stefan Johansen sail over his head to Elyounoussi and the Celtic man had time and space to control and guide a right-foot finish back across Peacock-Farrell into the net.
The hosts levelled within four minutes, Conor Washingston showing strength to get onto a long ball from Ballard, hold off a defender, and fire in a low drive which Rune Jarstein could only parry right – right into the path of McNair, who tapped into the unguarded goal.
Incredibly Norway were back in front the next minute, however, when a long ball forward was nodded back and broke to Haaland, who absolutely lashed a left-footed half-volley high to the net.
Sorloth made it three for the men in red in the 19th minute, with home right-back Smith this time allowing Norway’s left-back Haitam Aleesami the freedom to sweep in a deep cross, which the number nine turned in from beyond the far post.
NI manager Ian Baraclough changed the team shape at half-time, replacing centre half Ballard with attacker Liam Boyce, McNair dropping back into a back three.
However, before the new-look defence had time to settle Haaland was doing more damage, setting up goal number four in just over a minute. Latching onto a high through ball from Johansen, he outpaced Craig Cathcart and squared to present Sorloth with a simple goal.
Before the hour mark Haaland had his second, clever build-up from the Norwegians ending with right-back Omar Elabdellaoui advanced so far that he nodded the ball into the path of the Borussia Dortmund prodigy. The finish was still sensational the 20-year-old opening up his body to curl a beautiful shot into the far top corner.
Despite NI plugging away for the rest of this match, they didn’t look like scoring again, and Ferguson had to clear a Sorloth header off the line in added time to prevent Northern Ireland conceding six goals for the second match in a row.
The only consolation for the hosts was that the absence of spectators meant that even the normally supportive Green and White and Army didn’t have to boo this abject display.
Northern Ireland: Peacock-Farrell; Smith, Cathcart, Ballard (Boyce, h-t), Ferguson; Dallas, Thompson, Davis (capt), Saville (C Evans, 71); McNair, Washington (Lavery, 77).
Norway: Jarstein; Elabdellaoui (Svensson, 80), Hovland, Ajer, Aleesami (Meling, 77); Johansen (capt.) (King, 71), Henriksen, Normann, Elyounoussi; Haaland, Sorloth.
Referee: Bartosz Frankowski (Poland).
Northern Ireland ratings:
Bailey Peacock-Farrell: Made a smart save from Haaland early on but could do little or nothing about the goals that rained in past him. 6
Michael Smith: Stood watching as the ball went over him to Elyounoussi for the opener and was nowhere near Aleesami as he centred for the third goal. Moved to the centre of a back three for the second half, with little improvement. 4
Craig Cathcart: The senior home centre half couldn’t contain Norway’s young front two. Booked for clattering into Johansen out of frustration. 5
Daniel Ballard: Played the long ball leading to McNair’s equaliser and tried to pass with purpose but mis-controlled for Haaland’s first goal. Replaced at half-time in a tactical re-shuffle. 5.5
Shane Ferguson: Never looks comfortable at left-back and couldn’t cope with the movement of Johansen and Elabdellaoui. Did prevent a sixth goal close to the end. 5.5
Stuart Dallas: The versatile Leeds man, at right midfield, had a stretching header wide and worked hard as ever, but to little effect. 5.5
Jordan Thompson: Neat and tidy when he got on the ball but that wasn’t often and it was surprising that he stayed on for the whole game. 4.5
Steven Davis: The skipper’s performance stood for the team as a whole – below par and desperately disappointing. Sent a couple of shots well over the bar and gave the ball away uncharacteristically. 5
George Saville: Set up the first shooting chance for Davis but struggled like so many others and was replaced by Corry Evans. 5
Paddy McNair: Starting in an advanced attacking role, in the right place to tap in the leveller. Switched to the right of a back three for the second half but could not stem the flow of Norwegian goals. 6
Conor Washington: His strong run and shot set up the equaliser. Chased the ball down gamely but didn’t see much of it. 6
Liam Boyce: Came on up front for second period but never got into the game. 5
Corry Evans: Replaced Saville and was his usual busy self but the game was long gone. 5
Shayne Lavery: Took over from Washington for the final quarter hour but barely touched leather. 5