Ar­nau­tovic adds to North­ern Ire­land’s woes

Win in Sara­jevo needed to keep O’Neill’s men in con­trol of their fate

The Irish Times - Sports Weekend - - SOCCER -

North­ern Ire­land’s Na­tions League wor­ries deep­ened as Aus­tria’s Marko Ar­nau­tovic con­demned them to a 1-0 de­feat in Vi­enna.

The West Ham striker scored the only goal in the 71st minute to leave Michael O’Neill’s men with­out a point from their open­ing two matches in League B’s Group 3.

With the risk of rel­e­ga­tion grow­ing, they now need to win Mon­day’s match against Bos­nia and Herze­gov­ina in Sara­jevo to keep their fate in their own hands.

Ar­nau­tovic, a con­stant thorn in the North­ern Ire­land de­fence, sprung the off­side trap to get on to Peter Zulj’s pass be­fore slot­ting the ball past Bai­ley Pea­cock-Far­rell to set­tle a close con­test.

Fol­low­ing Kyle Laf­ferty’s shock de­ci­sion to with­draw him­self from the squad at the last minute, Josh Ma­gen­nis was the man to start up front for North­ern Ire­land, but the Bolton man’s first ma­jor con­tri­bu­tion was in de­fence.

Bai­ley Pea­cock-Far­rell – in­volved in the mix-up which gifted Bos­nia and Herze­gov­ina a cru­cial sec­ond goal in Belfast last month – then com­mit­ted a ma­jor men­tal er­ror when he picked up Jonny Evans’ back-pass to give away an indi­rect free-kick, and the Leeds stop­per was grate­ful to see Ar­nau­tovic fire into the wall.

North­ern Ire­land did not get a sniff of goal un­til after the half-hour mark when Ol­lie Nor­wood’s rak­ing ball found the run of Shane Fer­gu­son, but the Mill­wall man got his an­gles all wrong to head high and wide.

All the chances that had been miss­ing in the first half seemed to ar­rive at one when the sec­ond half be­gan.

First, Aus­tria could only half-clear Stu­art Dal­las’ long throw and Paddy McNair tried to curl the re­bound home, but it was an easy enough save for Heinz Lind­ner.

The hosts then went straight to the other end where a mis-hit clear­ance fell kindly for Ar­nau­tovic but his shot was di­verted wide. The Leeds man then de­nied Sab­itzer after his turn and shot.

Ar­nau­tovic wanted a penalty when he tried to cut in from the right and tum­bled over Ja­mal Lewis in the 65th minute, but the ref­eree showed no in­ter­est. He would soon have his goal re­gard­less, pro­vid­ing the one real mo­ment of class in the match. And it was al­most 2-0 when Stefan Lainer turned Valentino Lazaro’s cor­ner into the side-net­ting.

O’Neill went into all-out at­tack mode as Rother­ham striker Kyle Vas­sell came on to make his de­but, fol­lowed by Will Grigg, and the Wi­gan man was inches away from an equaliser when he twisted to head McNair’s 84th-minute cor­ner on to the far post. But that was as close as they would come, and the match ended with Ar­nau­tovic miss­ing a chance to make it 2-0.

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