Euro 2012 qual. - Serbia overcome Northern Ireland

Fri, 02 Sep 21:58:00 2011

Marko Pantelic scored the only goal of the game to give Serbia a much needed 1-0 Euro 2012 qualifying Group C victory against Northern Ireland at a very wet Windsor Park.

2011 Northern Ireland-Serbia Cathcart Jovanovic - 0

Pantelic took advantage of a terrible Steven Davis backpass to give the visitors a crucial victory that puts them level on points with second-placed Slovenia. Northern Ireland's hopes hang by a thread after just two wins from their seven games.

Nigel Worthington will have been disappointed that his two fitness concerns before the game were adjudged unfit, Pat McCourt and Kyle Lafferty were both struggling with calf injuries. David Healy returned to the side despite little playing time with Rangers recently and not an international goal to his name since October 2008. Chris Brunt gave Worthington a boost on his return from suspension.

Serbia were not without their own injury problems, big names such as Nemanja Vidic, Milos Krasic and Nikola Zigic unable to make the game.

Northern Ireland started the game brightly, but it did not take long for Serbia to begin asserting themselves with a slick style of play that begged the question how they lost so at home to Estonia earlier in the campaign.

Milan Jovanovic had a shot deflected off Northern Ireland skipper Aaron Hughes that skimmed the crossbar, before Aleksandar Kolarov cut inside Corry Evans to unleash a powerful right-foot shot that was well saved by Nottingham Forest keeper Lee Camp. It was Camp that ensured the hosts remained competitive, he pulled off a string off high class saves to keep the scoreline down. 

Zoran Tosic was proving a useful outlet for Serbia down the right, constantly twisting and turning, yet Jonny Evans was sticking to his task.

As the opening half progressed, so did Serbia's dominance. Dejan Stankovic was finding pockets of space in the midfield, despite both sides packing the midfield and operating with a solitary striker up front. On the brink of half-time, Serbian defender Slobodan Rajkovic launched into a wild challenge on Healy that could have seen him red carded, yet the referee deemed it worthy of just a yellow.

Worthington will no doubt have been pleased to go in at the break with the score goalless, and Northern Ireland gained confidence after the break and played with an increased tempo. Serbia lacked the fluency of the first half and the home side had gained a foothold in the game.

Corry Evans had the best chance of the night for Northern Ireland, when his brother Jonny found himself in space down the left, he picked out Corry eight yards out and unchallenged, but the midfielder could not manage to keep his header down.

Then Davis's poor backpass on the rain soaked Windsor Park pitch held up enough for the ever-willing Pantelic to pounce on the error and open the scoring.

Northern Ireland huffed and puffed thereafter without creating any signs of panic in the Serbian defence. They held their lead and deservedly so, though the Windsor Park faithful may not agree.

Paul Wood / Eurosport

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