Northern Ireland’s wait for a first Nations League win goes on after Michael Gregoritsch’s first-half header saw Austria beat them 1-0 at Windsor Park.
After the visitors had missed a glut of early chances, Gregoritsch made amends by beating Michael McGovern with a close-range header three minutes before half-time to give Austria a deserved lead at the break.
Northern Ireland, who had battled so valiantly in their Euro 2020 play-off win over Bosnia and Herzegovina on Thursday night, looked out of sorts and barely improved after half-time, with Jonny Evans’ simple header one of few efforts to come close to testing goalkeeper Pavao Pervan.
Liam Boyce, who had proven their penalty shoot-out hero in Sarajevo last week, flashed an effort wide from a tight angle in the second minute of added time, but Northern Ireland ended up with the result their poor performance had deserved as their run of games without a first Nations League win was extended to a seventh match.
How poor Northern Ireland were deservedly beaten
In front of their first home crowd of 2020, Northern Ireland rarely looked like providing much for their 600 fans to shout about at Windsor Park, as a smart Austria side began in the ascendency and stayed there.
The visitors should have taken the lead on the half-hour mark when Christian Baumgartner robbed Craig Cathcart on the edge of his own box, but after running through, planted his effort wide of the far post with the goal gaping.
The Hoffenheim winger should have made up for that miss when sliding in to meet Gregoritsch’s cushioned header back across goal minutes later, but somehow missed the target again and ballooned his effort over the bar.
Gregoritsch would give him a lesson in finishing moments before the interval, from an unlikely source. Centre-back Martin Hinteregger turned cultured winger to deliver an inviting ball into the six-yard box which the forward stooped to head into the corner, leaving McGovern with little chance.
Ian Baraclough made five changes from Thursday night’s Euro 2020 play-off win, bringing in goalkeeper Michael McGovern as well as giving recalls to Gavin Whyte and Kyle Lafferty.
The second period was somewhat of a non-event in front of goal, with Northern Ireland improving in the opening minutes before offering little to trouble Pavao Pervan, including Jonny Evans’ tame header midway through the half.
The best opportunity of note for either side should have seen Northern Ireland grab a last-gasp, if undeserved, equaliser through substitute Boyce, who received a low free-kick on the right of the box and flashed a shot just past Pervan’s far post on the turn in injury time, but just as they had done in the last iteration of the Nations League, Austria left Windsor Park with all three points.
What the manager said…
Northern Ireland manager Ian Baraclough: “We were far too passive in the first half. Second half I thought we put a lot more pressure on them, we engaged higher up, forced them into mistakes and created a few chances but we can’t start games like that and expect to win games anywhere, home or away, without being more competitive.
“I didn’t want to make wholesale changes [from Thursday]. I was asking them to go to the well and dig deep, but we don’t want to put excusves like that in front of things. The other night was what it was, not just the physical side but the emotional side, but we don’t want to have that as an excuse.”
- Northern Ireland remain winless in the UEFA Nations League (D1 L6), suffering four defeats in four games in the competition on home soil.
- No team have won more away games than Austria in the UEFA Nations League (three), with Franco Foda’s side picking up a victory in all but one of their four away games so far (0-1 v Bosnia in September 2018).
- Northern Ireland have now gone five consecutive games without keeping a clean sheet – their longest run without one since November 2013 (also a run of five).
- Northern Ireland’s first and only shot on target in this game came in the 68th minute, through a header from Jonny Evans.
- Michael Gregoritsch has been directly involved in three goals in his last four appearances for Austria, scoring twice and providing one assist.
Northern Ireland are back in action on Wednesday, visiting Norway live on Sky Sports Mix from 7.30pm; Kick-off at 7.45pm.
Austria visit Romania at the same time – their game is on the Sky Sports Football Red Button from 7.40pm.