Northern Ireland edged ever closer to Euro 2016 qualification as Gareth McAuley scored twice in a 3-1 win over the 10-man Faroe Islands on Friday.
After taking an early lead in Torshavn through McAuley’s header, the visitors were pegged back by Joan Edmundsson’s second goal of the qualifying campaign late in the first half.
However, Edmundsson turned from hero to villain for the Faroes midway through the second half when he received a second yellow card for sliding in late on Oliver Norwood.
And Michael O’Neill’s men made their numerical advantage count, McAuley heading in his second before Kyle Lafferty, who had earlier missed a golden chance, made sure of victory with 15 minutes to go.
Northern Ireland, who also hit the post through substitute Josh Magennis with five minutes remaining, now top Group F and can secure a place in the finals for the first time with a home win over Hungary on Monday.
Chris Brunt and Stuart Dallas impressed down the left as Northern Ireland started brightly, and they did not have to wait long to take the lead.
After Niall McGinn drew a foul 30 yards out, Norwood whipped in a delightful cross and West Brom defender McAuley guided his header into the top-right corner.
O’Neill’s side continued to dominate, though the Faroes, who have twice beaten Euro 2004 winners Greece during this qualification campaign, did test Northern Ireland goalkeeper Michael McGovern through Edmundsson’s long-range drive.
For all their possession, Northern Ireland found themselves pegged back when Dallas failed to clear from a corner, Sonni Nattestad nipping in before squaring for Edmundsson to poke home.
Northern Ireland should have been level on the stroke of half-time, but Lafferty headed over the crossbar after latching onto McGinn’s inviting cross.
Chris Baird carelessly lost the ball in midfield early in the second period, allowing Edmundsson to cross for Brandur Hendriksson, who failed to connect with an audacious bicycle kick.
But the visitors were given a boost shortly after the hour mark as Edmundsson picked up a second booking for a needless late lunge on Norwood.
Northern Ireland wasted no time in re-taking the lead, McAuley diving to meet Baird’s cross with a header into the bottom-left corner.
Lafferty then atoned for his earlier miss, twisting and turning in the box before firing in his sixth goal of the qualifying campaign.
Northern Ireland went close to a fourth late on when Magennis struck the post, but it mattered little as they closed in on a maiden European Championship finals appearance.