Wed, Mar 30, 2016 - Page 18 News List

Northern Ireland make it 10 unbeaten

CAPITAL STRIKE:Conor Washington’s 42nd-minute goal made Michael O’Neill’s side the first to go 10 games without losing, beating the record set twice in the 1980s

AFP and Reuters, BELFAST

Northern Ireland’s Conor Washington, right, scores against Slovenia in their international friendly at Windsor Park in Belfast, Northern Ireland, on Monday.

Photo: Reuters

Northern Ireland made it a record 10 matches unbeaten as Conor Washington underlined his case for a place at Euro 2016 with the goal that clinched a 1-0 international friendly win over Slovenia on Monday.

Washington’s first-half strike and Milivoje Novakovic’s missed penalty at Windsor Park made Michael O’Neill’s side the first in Northern Ireland history to go 10 games without losing as they surpassed the runs of nine without defeat set twice in the 1980s under Billy Bingham.

It is Bingham’s famous teams who O’Neill’s group have made a habit of emulating after their shock qualification for Euro 2016 took Northern Ireland to a first major tournament since the 1986 FIFA World Cup.

Asked about the unbeaten record, O’Neill said: “It’s lovely to achieve something like that. It’s for the squad — to go unbeaten for 10 games is a great achievement.”

As Northern Ireland prepare for their first ever appearance at the Euros, where they start against Poland on June 12, Washington is suddenly in contention to make the flight to France following his dream home debut.

The England-born Queens Park Rangers striker, who qualifies for Northern Ireland through his grandmother, only made his senior international debut on Thursday last week after being called up for the first time.

Washington was playing for non-league St Ives Town just four years ago, but his clinical finish and effervescent performance have given O’Neill food for thought as he fine-tunes his squad.

“He’s a raw striker. He’s come on the international stage and showed what he can do. He made a goal out of nothing and it’s a great night for him,” O’Neill said. “It would be unfair to say if he’s on the flight to France. He’s done himself no harm at all, not only in the performance, but how he’s fitted in with the group. It looks like he’s going to be an asset to us.”

After last week’s creditable 1-1 draw against Wales in Cardiff, O’Neill made four changes as Peterborough United defender Michael Smith made his debut.

Slovenia missed out on the Euros, but still possessed enough attacking quality to open up the Northern Ireland defense when Josip Ilicic cleverly stepped over a through-ball, allowing Roman Bezjak space to drive his shot into the side-netting.

Finally showing signs of life after their slow start, O’Neill’s side forced Jan Oblak into action when Washington surged into the penalty area and hit a low shot that the Slovenia goalkeeper saved with his feet.

Washington was proving to be Northern Ireland’s spark plug and he opened the scoring in the 42nd minute with a superb piece of skill.

Leaving two Slovenia players trailing in his wake with his upper body strength, Washington turned away from a third marker in the penalty area before stroking a cool finish past Oblak.

Jonny Evans handed Slovenia a chance to equalize midway through the second half when the West Bromwich Albion defender conceded a penalty by grabbing Miral Samardzic around the neck, but Roy Carroll came to his rescue as the former Manchester United goalkeeper kept out Novakovic’s spot-kick.

Northern Ireland host Belarus and visit Slovakia in their final two international friendlies before starting their Euro 2016 campaign against Poland, and then facing Ukraine and world champions Germany.

Slovenia failed to qualify for the tournament in France after losing a playoff to Ukraine.

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