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Northern Ireland's missed opportunity

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Joel Taggart | 17:17 UK time, Monday, 7 September 2009

I cannot remember feeling as low during a match commentary as I did on Saturday night when that Jonny Evans clearance hit Aaron Hughes and bounced passed Maik Taylor into the net to level the scores in Chorzow.

I was gutted for the players who had given so much and came within a whisker of recording an away win against significant opponents, probably for the first time since we beat Austria in 1994 and Keith Gillespie marked his arrival on the international stage.

Kyle Lafferty scores Northern Ireland's goal away to Poland

Just like that game in Vienna, one player will forever be associated with the game on Saturday night. It was the game in which Kyle Lafferty fulfilled all the great potential that we knew he had as a target man through the middle, the perfect foil for David Healy.

He was outstanding, led the line brilliantly, showed great composure when presented with the chance from which he scored in the opening half and gave the two Polish central defenders a torrid evening.

The biggest compliment that I can pay Lafferty is that the game changed as soon as he had to leave the action with his injury and, if as it seems, he will miss the game against Slovakia, it will be a huge blow to Northern Ireland's chances of qualification.

Away wins in the group are precious, if you disregard the matches involving San Marino, there has only been one away win in Group Three so far - Slovakia managed it in Prague against the Czech Republic.

The extra two points from a win in Poland would have given us such an advantage, would have eased the pressure just a little bit more, and perhaps have taken the wind from the sails of the Poles.

Yes, it was a great point away from home, and while the squad and the manager are making all the right noises in public, they probably know in their heart of hearts after seeing how the game developed, it was a Polish team there for the taking.

Luck, they say, evens itself out. Remember Slovenia hitting the crossbar just before we scored in Belfast, remember the Boruc bobble, perhaps the luck was being evened up when Lafferty was forced to go off.

However, that result has gone, we got a point. We will only know if it was one gained or two dropped at the end of the campaign, so let's regroup and move on.

The scenario is now a simple one. Two wins are required from two games and at worst we should have a play-off place.

The incentive for the players on Wednesday night could not be greater, win the game and you head back to your clubs knowing that Northern Ireland will sit proudly at the top of the Group Three table.

The pressure will have shifted to the shoulders of the other sides who play in the first round of October games while we have a night off.

A draw in the other game on Wednesday night would be ideal. Slovenia at this stage are effectively level on points with us and ahead on goal difference as their final game of the campaign is against San Marino.

We need them to drop points against Poland or Slovakia. Draws for the others are the name of the game, but it will count for little if we do not win our last two matches and that is going to be tough if Warren Feeney and Lafferty are missing for both.

So let us prepare ourselves for what could be the greatest of all those Windsor nights in our recent international history, better even than England, better than Spain, simply because of the significance of the match.

For the first time in a long time there is something at stake. It is even more important than Denmark in the last campaign because this time our destiny is still in our own hands.

Slovakia will not relish the thought of coming here so let's get ready for the biggest game at Windsor Park for nearly 28 years and give the players the backing they deserve on what could be the most nerve-jangling, spine-tingling, emotional roller-coaster of an evening.

I just have a really bad feeling that the journey could come to a shuddering halt. I hope I am wrong.

Some other bits and bobs. Well done to the 900 or so fans who made the long trip to Chorzow. I met many of them while they were there and I am so pleased to hear that they made it home safely.

Also thanks for the song while you were all locked in the ground after the game which gave some advice regarding what we should do with our copy of a local Sunday newspaper.

I can always be sure that on every away trip there will be a song from the fans that will make me laugh. You never let me down.

Also thanks to the fan who came and introduced himself to the BBC team for the game.

Proudly he marched towards John O'Neill, capped 39 times for his country and member of two World Cup squads. The fan extended his hand and said, 'Michael, great to meet you'. We pointed out to him that Michael Hughes was the one sitting opposite John at the other side of the table! I suppose they look alike after a few pints.


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  • 1. At 6:46pm on 07 Sep 2009, WINDSOR1886 wrote:

    Is Jackie Fullerton on a permanent five second time delay when he commentates? We should be told!

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  • 2. At 8:16pm on 07 Sep 2009, boomshakalak wrote:

    Fair play to northern ireland- as an englishman I sincerely hope you qualify. Good luck- hopefully we'll see you insouth Africa!

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  • 3. At 10:48pm on 07 Sep 2009, Davros wrote:

    If they make it to S.Africa fair enough, but ultimately Ireland would be strengthened by having a united team. And input from The North can only help.
    The wisdom of this can be seen in the recent improvements of the (united) Irish rugby and cricket teams.

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  • 4. At 11:31pm on 07 Sep 2009, Hearyerman wrote:

    The performance on Saturday gave me a lot of heart. Big Laff was superb while the mid-field of Davis, Clingen and co worked their socks off. Fancy the boys to sneak a wee win against Slovakia although it will be far from comfortable. After that, down to the last game and who knows? As for davros64, least said........

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  • 5. At 09:14am on 08 Sep 2009, BigOldHeid wrote:

    I really hope you do it...These patches of form and belief come for us (the rest of the home nations) but once a lifetime. I blame the manager, he deserves alot of credit.

    Make the most of it though....18 months ago, me and millions of other Scots were dancing around after beating France in the group of death, now it's back to the bottom of the group of life.

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  • 6. At 10:07am on 08 Sep 2009, Craig wrote:

    If they make it to S.Africa fair enough, but ultimately Ireland would be strengthened by having a united team. And input from The North can only help.
    The wisdom of this can be seen in the recent improvements of the (united) Irish rugby and cricket teams.

    Stop talking about things you don't understand

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  • 7. At 10:22am on 08 Sep 2009, cwjpcrues wrote:

    I felt so proud on saturday night, not just the result, not even the courageous performance. I felt proud of being asociated with the GAWA and their "performance" and general conduct in Poland. I suppose why would have I expected anything different? I was one of those fans who had plans to go to Poland but decided against it. I only hope that the real party will be in Prague!!!

    Obviously tomorrow night will be magnificent, I cant wait to get my green and white hat on and give my all at Windsor. Any ideas of how to get to South Africa on a budget?

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  • 8. At 1:34pm on 08 Sep 2009, skiporovers wrote:

    davros64, what are you talking about? Its the same argument as why isnt there a GB team, in fact its an even less persuading argument as ROI are not even part of GB. The IFA want to stay and so does the FAI, and no fans would want them together, and your argument for combined teams in other sports does not stand up either... How many NI are in the irish rugby? or even ulstermen for that matter not many if any at all.

    PS If only Martin Paterson had of finished that chance we would be top already! He must of been gutted, hopefully he will make up for it on Weds if he takes over from Big Kyle.

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  • 9. At 1:56pm on 08 Sep 2009, thegoodmanchester wrote:

    If they make it to S.Africa fair enough, but ultimately Ireland would be strengthened by having a united team. And input from The North can only help.
    The wisdom of this can be seen in the recent improvements of the (united) Irish rugby and cricket teams.


    why not join england scotland and wales up at the same time and have a team GB...

    that would go down like a sack of spuds

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  • 10. At 1:58pm on 08 Sep 2009, ulster_stew88 wrote:


    The cricket and rugby yawnion teams have always been on a united ireland basis, and the rugby yawnion team has always been reasonably successful but the irish FA where the original FA on this island until the republic split to form the FAI and it will remain this way. a teams performance is not dictated by how big the country is and you only have to look at N.I results to know that, we've beat countries bigger than ourselves and lost to ones smaller than ourselves just like the RoI, so any united football team is unnecessary and unwanted so please stop posting misguided ideas which have nothing to do with the blogthread.

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  • 11. At 1:58pm on 08 Sep 2009, ladjacket wrote:

    Never mind joining the teams from North and South of the border, it is an amazing achivement that two teams form the one island are so close to reaching the World Cup Finals. As a proud Republic of Ireland fan, I wish the entire Northern Irish team and fans the very best of luck in their remaining games!

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  • 12. At 2:18pm on 08 Sep 2009, Norn_Iron_Si wrote:

    davros64, has it occured to you that neither side may want to join forces? We both have proud footballing histories as separate nations and wouldn't want to give that up to be a "supposedly" stronger joint team.

    By this logic maybe we should join with Germany or Spain? That would strengthen us even more. We aren't totally obsessed with success, just seeing our lads doing their best is enough!

    GAWA - Bring on Slovakia!!!

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  • 13. At 2:25pm on 08 Sep 2009, Fatladni wrote:

    Slovakia are no mugs or else they wouldn't be top of the group,but I believe.
    I believe that if we go into this game with the same commitment as shown in Poland,come Thursday,we'll be top of the group.This commitment must be shown by players,management,fans and dare I say it the media,including journalists.
    This is an occassion I have been waiting for since 1986.Yes, we came close in the Euro's,but that is in the past.This is now.God willing,this is another chapter in the history of Our Wee Country that is about to be written.

    And davros,as far as a United-Ireland team is concerned,on 606 a lot of RoI supporters would claim that only one or two players from NI would make the team,so it begs the question....

    Why would players,who are International footballers,want to enter into an agreement that would mean the end of their International careers.

    "Stand up for the Ulstermen"

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  • 14. At 2:43pm on 08 Sep 2009, wengers-scout wrote:

    great blog.

    But people dont respond to clowns like davros64. hes here for one reason and thats to start an argument. Will be at Windsor on wednesday praying for a win.

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  • 15. At 3:03pm on 08 Sep 2009, Lee wrote:

    If they make it to S.Africa fair enough, but ultimately Ireland would be strengthened by having a united team. And input from The North can only help.
    The wisdom of this can be seen in the recent improvements of the (united) Irish rugby and cricket teams.


    Fair enough, perhaps it would, except, neither us nor the South particularly want it and UEFA probably wouldn't go for it. It's a moot point, and one which rears it's head too frequently. Let's give it a rest, eh Davros? Anyway, don't you have some Daleks to round up, or something?

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  • 16. At 4:58pm on 08 Sep 2009, ShenandoahSon wrote:

    To Davros: Ireland had a united football team, but the Republic chose to breakaway and set up the FAI in the 20s. Not only did they destroy the united Ireland team, but they have been poaching players from the North ever since. Why dont you address your concerns to them?

    I know some will say that a player like Gibson is probably an Irish Republic passport holder and so feels more comfortable playing for the ROI. However, this viewpoint ignores two important points. Firstly, the fact is that N.Ireland is effectively a dual passport state. This means that its citizens can choose to have a UK passport or an Irish Republic passport or both. Consequently, the team welcomes holders of both passports because it is the team of the whole community not just one section of it. An Ulster catholic with an Irish Republic passport should feel no diminishing of his Irishness by playing for the IFA because we welcome, embrace and represent both traditions. In this way we can actually be seen to be more representative of the people of Ireland as a whole than is the FAI. Thats why we play under the Keltic Cross. Indeed the founder of the modern era of the IFA was the great Peter Docherty who I believe was a catholic. Also some of our most outstanding players over the years have been catholic, eg. Pat Jennings and Gerry Armstong.

    Secondly, it was the IFA who nutured people like Gibson's development it seems a poor way for him to pay them back. Playing for the FAI rather than the IFA certainly doesnt make him any more "Irish". It just means he shares a dressing room with guys from Kerry and Waterford rather than from Derry and Ballymena. The IFA is something that could bring the different communities together in N.Ireland. It has an honourable record in this respect, just ask any past IFA international player. It is a force for good in our unfortunately divided community. Guys like Gibson have decided to turn their back on it. That tells you quite a lot about them!

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  • 17. At 5:29pm on 08 Sep 2009, Harry wrote:

    I fancy them to beat Slovakia tomorrow, if they were to finish top of the group - WOW.

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  • 18. At 5:38pm on 08 Sep 2009, ShenandoahSon wrote:

    To SKIPOROVERS: Sorry Friend, I understand where you are coming from and agree with much of what you have said. However, the fact is that there are currently about five NI/Ulstermen in the Irish rugby squad, ie. Tommy Bowe, Rory Best, Paddy Wallace, Stephen Ferris and Paul Young or Neil Best. This is what you would expect, ie. Ulster being one of the 4 Provinces could be expected to provide about 4 of the 15 players. In the past it has been as high as 7 or 8.

    No, you have every right as an Ulsterman to feel pride in the contribution of N.Ireland to the achievements of the Irish rugby team! What a Grand Slam, eh? And what a fantastic try by Bowe! Anyway, best of luck to the lads at Windsor tomorrow night! See you there! I'll be the one in Green & White! Win or die trying!

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  • 19. At 10:49pm on 08 Sep 2009, dannycasey23 wrote:

    davros theres too mcuh history for that to happen
    and shenandoahson gibson playin 4 the roi has nuthin 2 do with whether he is a catholic or not, it's who he wants to play for and, as he has an irish passport, he is eligible to play for the roi and should not be criticised for doing so.

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  • 20. At 00:00am on 09 Sep 2009, Craig McConnell wrote:

    Im FED up reading about people saying we need a united Ireland football team. Before even suggesting it, Please dont because you clearly havent a clue. If you search 'the troubles' then maybe youll understand why Norther Ireland is Northern Ireland and why there are two diferent teams for two different communities.

    As for the football, Poland where there for the taking, and not taking the points may have been the different between qualification. However, when you consider the terrible away form NI is hampered by, i think if NI had been offered 1-1 before hand theyd have been satisfied enough.

    Still think we will qualify!

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  • 21. At 01:01am on 09 Sep 2009, Davros wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 22. At 07:29am on 09 Sep 2009, cwjpcrues wrote:

    This Blog was (and presumably the following comments should be) about Northern Ireland's chances of qualifying for the world cup and how when they beat Slovakia tonight they will be top of their group.

    No need to go into the intricacies of other debates...there are millions of megabytes worth of forums dedicated to these subjects elsewhere on the internet.

    I have 5 more hours of work then i shall be out in Belfast warming up (ahem) for the biggest match of my career tonight. C'MON Our Wee Country.

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  • 23. At 08:01am on 09 Sep 2009, corkscrewilly wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 24. At 09:45am on 09 Sep 2009, skiddy1903 wrote:

    well done to NI for getting yourselves in this position. it seems like the last couple of campaigns you've put in some great home performances to get nearly there only to fall towards the end but this time it looks like you're ready to get over the line.

    from an outsider it looks like Poland and the Czech's are no where near as good as they have been in the recent past and NI have taken advantage of that to lead them in the group. In no way do i mean that to take anything away from your performances, it's been an impressive sequence of results.

    Normally i'd be supporting you today but as a Scot a NI loss could be the best hope we have of reaching the play-offs in the unlikey event that we beat the Dutch so i'm afraid i'll have to be selfish. In the far more likey even that we don't beat Holland though i'll be hoping none of my pre match desires come true and NI have won.

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  • 25. At 09:56am on 09 Sep 2009, JMK1973 wrote:

    Less than 10 hours until kick off and only about 6 until I like cwjpcrues will be warming up for the match. Remember we're not Brazil we're Northern Ireland.

    I for one am just off to have an Ulster Fry and get my Green and White gear on ready to cheer on Our Wee Counrty. C'MON NORN IRON

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  • 26. At 12:20pm on 09 Sep 2009, Wolfe71 wrote:

    Thought Northern Ireland were excellent against Poland, until Lafferty went off. Will be very interesting to see how they cope without him, but hope they can sneak a win.

    On the topic about having 1 Ireland team to do better, the opposite was true with Yugoslavia. They were a team of underachievers, whereas Croatia reached a World Cup semi final. Similarly, the Soviet Union never punched its weight despite having so many nations' players to choose from.

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  • 27. At 12:52pm on 09 Sep 2009, Macca wrote:

    Northern Ireland must go in to the game believing they can win. Slovakia have been a surprise this time in qualifying but even more of a surprise is how poor Czech Rep and Poland have been.

    Czechs felt they would qualify comfortably and perhaps the team caught the mentality and haven't put the effort in. They should have beaten the Slovaks last weekend but poor defending cost them and they struggled to make their dominance count when they did get on top.

    Northern Ireland stand a great chance of winning tonight and if they're hungry enough should get it.

    Poland on current form may do well to get a draw in Slovenia. Czechs at home to San Marino need a goal avalanche to maintain any hope whatsoever of qualifying.

    I reckon Northern Ireland will qualify.

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  • 28. At 1:08pm on 09 Sep 2009, Fatladni wrote:

    Why do certain people find it neccassary to take a blog about Norn Iron and their chances of qualifying for South Africa 2010 and turn it into a political debate???
    If these articles are being moderated correctly then they shouldn't be published.

    Parting comment....


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  • 29. At 1:22pm on 09 Sep 2009, Davros wrote:

    If you don't realise that the very existence of the North of Ireland as a seperate entity is contentious, let alone their football team then you've 300 years of history to catch-up on!

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  • 30. At 1:48pm on 09 Sep 2009, Fatladni wrote:

    Davros,find nothing contentious about the existence of Nortern Ireland at all.
    I love my country,my football team and my neighbour.
    It would appear that it is you who has a problem with all three.


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  • 31. At 2:30pm on 09 Sep 2009, Davros wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 32. At 3:32pm on 09 Sep 2009, Lee wrote:

    All those going to the game tonight; let's make it a rocking atmos as usual!


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  • 33. At 3:33pm on 09 Sep 2009, wengers-scout wrote:

    well said fatladni. forcing the teams together would take away their identities. Imagine no internationals and no amazing atmosphere at Windsor. It will never happen gladly. Cant wait til tonite. GAWA! Best fans in Europe.

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  • 34. At 5:08pm on 09 Sep 2009, AntonThePan wrote:

    * 16. At 4:58pm on 08 Sep 2009, ShenandoahSon wrote:

    You write very eloquently, but sadly your point is completely irrelevant to this article and slo quite rude.

    The players can choose to play for whomever they want.

    Please try to show a little more respect.

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  • 35. At 10:34pm on 09 Sep 2009, Robert Jones wrote:

    'The GB & North only has 4 teams anyway through an accident of history, for which certainly the 3 smaller parts should be grateful. Otherwise they'd have been long dominated by England! Even with the Scots input and occasional Welsh or Northern genius.'

    Excuse me English boy, but if you're going to enter into a cultural debate, please at least have a knowledge of what you speak of. Have you any knowledge of Irish history, or Scottish and Welsh resistance against this idiotic imperialist notion you spout? I thought not.

    Has not your government approved devolution in our countries in the past ten years? Is England not currently run by a Scot? And most interestingly, given that this is a sports forum? Did not your country fail to qualify for Euro 2008, and aren't they paying a foreigner £6 million a year to manage your national side?

    So please keep your nationalism to yourself, sir. :)

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  • 36. At 11:22pm on 09 Sep 2009, Davros wrote:

    You're making a lot of assumptions there, TTB. BO!

    Of course I know about Irish history (2 people I went to school with were involved in infamous incidents), whilst a notion of English dominance, in the context of Britain, has been apparent for the last 300 years!!!

    Returning to football, personally don't give a fig about the Euros(besides the away qualifiers?) and if Trap gets Ireland to S.Africa, it'll be worth every cent?

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