Match ends, Northern Ireland 2, Estonia 0.
Euro 2020 qualifiers: Northern Ireland defeat Estonia 2-0 in Belfast opener
Northern Ireland made a winning start to their Euro 2020 qualifiers with Niall McGinn and Steven Davis on target in a 2-0 victory over Estonia.
A frustrating first half saw the hosts fail to turn their dominance of possession into goals.
McGinn lashed the ball into the net from 16 yards from Kyle Lafferty's lay-off in the 56th minute and Davis fired home from the penalty spot in the 75th.
Northern Ireland play Belarus in their next Group C game in Belfast on Sunday.
With Northern Ireland drawn in a difficult group alongside European giants Germany and the Netherlands - only two countries will qualify for Euro 2020 - manager Michael O'Neill had emphasised the necessity of building early momentum and getting early points by beating lower ranked teams Estonia and Belarus in their first two games.
O'Neill's side will face Estonia and Belarus again away from home in June, before the formidable double-headers against the Dutch and Germans in the autumn.
Northern Ireland had gone eight competitive games without a win before this fixture but they now have the opportunity to repeat or better their start to their successful Euro 2016 qualifying series when they triumphed in their first three matches.
The win over the Estonians ensured O'Neill began his fourth qualifying campaign on a winning note as he attempts to lead his side to successive European Championship finals by negotiating the condensed qualifying competition which runs from March to November.
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Northern Ireland came into this campaign on the back of a frustrating inaugural Nations League experience which saw them lose all four of their games, finish bottom of Group B3 and suffer relegation.
O'Neill used those fixtures to blend his mix of youth and experience, experiment with new personnel and develop a more expansive, attacking, high-intensity style of play.
The failings of that campaign, which saw the team fail to convert possession and pressure into goals, resurrected their ugly head again in the first half as the hosts failed to convert a number of chances.
McGinn fired wide early on and Jordan Jones skewed an effort wide of the post but the best opportunity fell to Paddy McNair who headed the ball into the ground and over the bar from four yards out after getting on the end of Jones' left-wing cross - a glorious chance passed up.
Just before the half-hour mark left-back Jamal Lewis looked to be brought down by Nikita Baranov just inside the area but Croatian referee Ivan Bebek waved away penalty appeals.
Northern Ireland had scored just three goals in their past eight competitive fixtures and that relative barren spell looked set to continue until McGinn found the net to ease the tension around Windsor Park.
The Aberdeen winger helped ensure his inclusion in the starting line-up by scoring for his club against both Livingston and Rangers last week and he continued that hot streak by finally breaking down the stubborn Estonian resistance.
Jones provided the cross from the left and Lafferty teed up McGinn, who beat McNair to the ball and drilled into the corner of the net with his left foot for his fourth international goal and his first at the Belfast venue.
Davis had been one of a number of players who had not seen much regular first-team action with their clubs over recent months but the captain did warm up for the Euro qualifying opener with a full 90 minutes for Rangers last weekend.
The midfielder made the three points secure by rifling his penalty right down the middle of the goal and past visiting goalkeeper Sergei Lepmets after Estonia skipper Karol Mets had gone in high on George Saville.
Substitute Josh Magennis almost added to his side's tally with an 83rd-minute driven effort but Lepmets was equal to the task.
Estonia had beaten Northern Ireland in their only two previous competitive encounters - a 4-1 victory in a European qualifier in Tallinn in September 2011 and a 2-1 success in Belfast a month later - results which precipitated the departure of then NI manager Nigel Worthington.
Despite Northern Ireland's occasional profligacy in front of goal Martin Reim's side never looked like repeating those feats as they showed little by way of attacking intent for most of the game.
Their best chances came in the second half with the score at 1-0 when young Fulham player Mattias Kait blasted over and then Henri Anier saw his shot well saved by Bailey Peacock-Farrell after being sent through one-on-one with the keeper.
Northern Ireland will hope for the same outcome but also an improved performance when they face Belarus in three days' time.
- 7McGinnSubstituted forMcLaughlinat 84'minutes
- 10LaffertySubstituted forMagennisat 76'minutes
- 15JonesSubstituted forFergusonat 81'minutes
- 16TammBooked at 35mins
- 8AnierSubstituted forZenjovat 76'minutes
- 20DmitrijevSubstituted forSappinenat 85'minutes
- 11OjamaaSubstituted forVassiljevat 68'minutes
- Ivan Bebek
- Shots on Target
Second Half ends, Northern Ireland 2, Estonia 0.
Attempt blocked. Stuart Dallas (Northern Ireland) right footed shot from outside the box is blocked. Assisted by Steven Davis.
Steven Davis (Northern Ireland) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Sergei Zenjov (Estonia).
Offside, Estonia. Mattias Kait tries a through ball, but Rauno Sappinen is caught offside.
Offside, Northern Ireland. Shane Ferguson tries a through ball, but Josh Magennis is caught offside.
Attempt saved. Josh Magennis (Northern Ireland) right footed shot from outside the box is saved in the centre of the goal. Assisted by Conor McLaughlin.
Attempt saved. Josh Magennis (Northern Ireland) right footed shot from outside the box is saved in the centre of the goal.
Corner, Northern Ireland. Conceded by Joonas Tamm.
Substitution, Estonia. Rauno Sappinen replaces Artjom Dmitrijev.
Substitution, Northern Ireland. Conor McLaughlin replaces Niall McGinn.
Attempt saved. Josh Magennis (Northern Ireland) right footed shot from the centre of the box is saved in the bottom left corner. Assisted by Steven Davis with a through ball.
Attempt saved. George Saville (Northern Ireland) left footed shot from the centre of the box is saved in the bottom left corner. Assisted by Paddy McNair.
Substitution, Northern Ireland. Shane Ferguson replaces Jordan Jones.
Foul by Jordan Jones (Northern Ireland).
Nikita Baranov (Estonia) wins a free kick on the right wing.
Offside, Northern Ireland. Stuart Dallas tries a through ball, but Josh Magennis is caught offside.
Substitution, Estonia. Sergei Zenjov replaces Henri Anier.
Substitution, Northern Ireland. Josh Magennis replaces Kyle Lafferty.
Goal! Northern Ireland 2, Estonia 0. Steven Davis (Northern Ireland) converts the penalty with a right footed shot to the centre of the goal.
Penalty Northern Ireland. George Saville draws a foul in the penalty area.
Penalty conceded by Karol Mets (Estonia) after a foul in the penalty area.
Attempt blocked. Niall McGinn (Northern Ireland) right footed shot from the right side of the box is blocked.
Foul by Kyle Lafferty (Northern Ireland).
Madis Vihmann (Estonia) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Kyle Lafferty (Northern Ireland) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Madis Vihmann (Estonia).
Attempt saved. Henri Anier (Estonia) left footed shot from the centre of the box is saved in the centre of the goal. Assisted by Gert Kams with a through ball.
Attempt missed. Mattias Kait (Estonia) left footed shot from the right side of the box is too high following a corner.
Corner, Estonia. Conceded by Craig Cathcart.
Substitution, Estonia. Konstantin Vassiljev replaces Henrik Ojamaa.
Attempt missed. Steven Davis (Northern Ireland) right footed shot from outside the box is high and wide to the right. Assisted by Jordan Jones.
Attempt blocked. George Saville (Northern Ireland) left footed shot from outside the box is blocked.
Paddy McNair (Northern Ireland) wins a free kick in the attacking half.
Foul by Karol Mets (Estonia).
Attempt missed. Paddy McNair (Northern Ireland) header from the centre of the box is too high. Assisted by Jordan Jones with a cross.
Foul by George Saville (Northern Ireland).
Sergei Lepmets (Estonia) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Attempt saved. Henri Anier (Estonia) left footed shot from outside the box is saved in the centre of the goal.