Northern Ireland lost out 2-1 to the USA at Windsor Park on Sunday evening as another performance with promising spells went unrewarded, bar a spectacular Marco van Basten-esque consolation from Niall McGinn.
he result stretches Ian Baraclough’s opening record as manager to just one win, and seven defeats, from his opening 10 matches, McGinn’s goal only the seventh in that time.
In truth, this would always have been a tough match to win against a USA side captained by Chelsea’s Christian Pulisic and also possessing regular first-teamers from the likes of Borussia Dortmund and Valencia.
In the end, the scoreline matched those expectations as Gio Reyna and Pulisic got the goals but it was only after a first half that was dominated by encouraging Northern Irish spells with the now trademark high pressing style causing the opposition plenty of problems. However, crucially, there was a stark lack of a cutting edge that was not matched at the other end, leaving the hosts trailing at the break.
For a spell during the middle of the half, Northern Ireland had the US pinned inside their own half but couldn’t capitalise. The best chance saw George Saville feed in captain-for-the-day Kyle Lafferty after the hosts had won the ball high. Clean through on goal, Lafferty screwed his shot wide, showing just why he hasn’t scored an international goal since November 2016.
USA took full advantage on the half-hour mark with their only chance as Dortmund teenager Gio Reyna did well to work space and lashed a shot that was deflected off Ciaron Brown and past Conor Hazard.
The tireless first half displays of both George Saville and Shayne Lavery were worth special mention, Saville leading the press and Lavery getting on the end of every ball forward showing his raw pace as he seeks a move back to England or Scotland.
The second half performance lacked much of fizz that was present throughout the first, at least until Dion Charles’ entrance on the hour-mark.
That came just seconds after Christian Pulisic had doubled the scores from the spot, the US captain having been brought down by outstanding centre-half Daniel Ballard, who could feel hard-done by having got a nick on the ball and who could well be in line for a start in midweek.
At the other end, Charles gave Northern Ireland a much needed desire to attack and twice gave the US a scare, first when he curled over having been teed up by Lafferty and then when he burst straight at goal from inside the centre circle, jinked inside his marker and blasted straight at the keeper.
As the second half wore on USA’s grip strengthened and, powered on by lively substitute Barnsley’s Daryl Dike, tried to add a third but were denied by Hazard.
Then came the moment of the match as Niall McGinn channeled his inner van Basten to loop a stunning half volley over the US goalkeeper from a narrow angle and into the top corner for a truly spectacular strike, reminiscent of the Dutch legend’s famous goal in the European Championship final in 1988.
As with Thursday’s defeat in Italy, all will be forgiven if Bulgaria are beaten at Windsor on Wednesday.
Defeat and the pressure could, rightly or wrongly, start to mount.
Here’s the game as it happened: