Stuart Dallas bags late winner for Northern Ireland against Azerbaijan

Ruben Hill
June 11, 2017

Michael O'Neill will not focus Northern Ireland's gameplan around stopping Azerbaijan debutant Richard Almeida on Saturday night, admitting "the best Brazilians don't always play in Azerbaijan".

Northern Ireland is doing well and is on its way to qualifying for the 2018 World Cup, now in second with 10 points in Group C. The Green and White Army are going into this encounter in excellent form having won their last two games in the qualifiers and not conceding any goals in those two games. In the first minute of time added on, a mix-up in the home defence allowed Jonny Evans to lay the ball into the path of Dallas and after taking a poor touch he made amends by slotting the ball past the goalkeeper. I think the spirit was everything.

"Three, four years ago we would have lost this game 1-0 and people would not be surprised by that", he told the BBC. But late goals have become a hallmark of this team in recent years and Dallas' victor ensured Northern Ireland would remain in second place in Group C regardless of results last night, when Germany took on San Marino and Czech Republic faced Norway.

There was only one in a fairly tiresome game and it came from Dallas.

"We stayed in the game, fought hard and we got a lucky break to win the game but it was a difficult game for us, with the conditions and also with a number of our players who have not played for almost six weeks".

"After Luxembourg and Azerbaijan there must have been times when he wondered if he could get the best out of us but he believed in his ability, and he believed in us and he passed it on to us and here we are today". "Stuart did a huge amount of work in the game and showed great quality to finish as he did". He owed much to Evans' decision to square it to him rather than shooting, and the Leeds midfielder steadied himself before firing into the corner to spark jubilant scenes among the 300 or so travelling fans, who will now have a bit more hope that they might be travelling this far east again next summer.

Moments before the victor, O'Neill had replaced winger Niall McGinn with full-back Lee Hodson and seemed content to settle for a scoreless draw.

Hero Dallas admitted: "We maybe didn't deserve to win - but in global football you have to take your chances".

O'Neill claimed Azerbaijan's frustration was understandable and their manager Robert Prosinecki's mood was perhaps summed up by his animated reaction when asked if he was now leaving to join Turkish club Bursaspor.

The signs that this could be Northern Ireland's night grew when Ismayilov blazed over as he closed on goal, but there was still a sense of disbelief around the ground when Dallas scored in the second minute of stoppage time.

"We had four opportunities to score but we couldn't. I saw the statistics, 70 per cent of the ball, but we lost in the last minute".

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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