Belarus 0 Northern Ireland 1: O'Neill's men leave it late to maintain perfect start

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Paddy McNair struck four minutes from time as Northern Ireland maintained their three-point lead over Germany at the summit of Group C.

Belarus 0 Northern Ireland 1: O'Neill's men leave it late to maintain perfect start

Paddy McNair struck four minutes from time as Northern Ireland maintained their three-point lead over Germany at the summit of Group C.

Northern Ireland left it late to maintain their 100 per cent start to Euro 2020 qualifying with a narrow 1-0 win over Belarus on Tuesday.

Michael O'Neill's side won their first three Group C games – including a 2-1 win in the reverse fixture in March – but looked like they would be leaving the Borisov Arena with just a point after a disjointed display.

But, having secured a late turnaround to overcome Estonia at the weekend, they did the same again in Barysaw, Paddy McNair sparking wild celebrations among the travelling support with a fine finish four minutes from time.

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The win means O'Neill's men remain at the summit of their group, three points ahead of Germany, who have a game in hand.

Northern Ireland started in confident mood, with Conor Washington fizzing an effort agonisingly wide after four minutes.

Belarus soon grew into the game, though, denying the visitors any clear-cut chances and almost taking the lead themselves when Denis Polyakov's left-wing cross floated just wide of Bailey Peacock-Farrell's far post.

Northern Ireland did not register a shot on target until the 50th minute, Aleksandr Gutor keeping out Washington's whipped effort from 20 yards.

Peacock-Farrell had to be alert 20 minutes from time to keep out Igor Stasevich's low strike from 12 yards, while Gutor pawed away substitute George Saville's drive at the other end.

Northern Ireland's never-say-die attitude was on full display again in the closing stages, though, as McNair cut in from the left and drilled past Gutor to make it four wins from four for O'Neill's side.

 

What does it mean? Imperfect performance does not derail perfect start

With two games each still to play against Germany and Netherlands, O'Neill knew maximum points was vital against one of the group's minnows. They were made to work hard for the victory, though, and the Northern Ireland boss knows that if they play as sluggishly as this against more illustrious opponents they will be punished.

McNair opens international account in style

The former Manchester United man was not a regular starter for Middlesbrough in the 2018-19 Championship season, but he showed no signs of rustiness when he cut inside late on and smashed past Gutor for his first ever international goal.

Magennis unable to recreate heroics

Josh Magennis made a dramatic impact from the substitutes' bench against Estonia at the weekend – scoring late on to secure all three points. But he struggled to stamp his authority on this game and he was hauled off early in the second half after an anonymous display.

What's next?

Northern Ireland face back-to-back home games in September, with Luxembourg and Germany visiting Windsor Park. Belarus, meanwhile, visit Estonia in the same month.

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