Northern Ireland gave themselves a boost going into Euro 2016 with a comfortable 3-0 win over Belarus at Windsor Park on Friday.
The Green and White Army bid farewell to their supporters in their last home affair before the European Championships in style, giving manager Michael O’Neill plenty to think about as he prepares to name his final 23-man squad.
Kyle Lafferty continued his excellent goalscoring form for Northern Ireland by firing the hosts into the lead after six minutes, before Conor Washington added a second just before the interval.
O’Neill’s charges controlled for proceedings for long spells before in-form Wigan Athletic marksman Will Grigg opened up his Northern Ireland account late on to stretch his side’s unbeaten run to 11 games.
The home fans were already in party mode even before the game got started and within six minutes Lafferty gave them further cause for celebration on his 50th appearance for his country.
Belarus’ defence failed to deal with Stuart Dallas’ low cross from the left and Lafferty took full advantage of their hesitation to poke home from close range.
Northern Ireland came close to doubling their advantage midway through the first half when a Steven Davis free-kick reached Chris Baird beyond the far post, but his goal-bound effort was blocked by a cluster of defenders.
Lafferty then saw his well-struck effort blocked following more fine approach work from the lively Dallas, but the hosts were not to be denied just before the break.
Gorbunov was badly at fault for the goal, tamely punching a Dallas cross straight up into the air and allowing Washington to nod the loose ball into the net.
Belarus did look more purposeful early in the second half, with Sergey Kislyak drawing a regulation save from substitute goalkeeper Alan Mannus and Maksim Volodko flashing a left-footed shot narrowly wide.
Former Arsenal and Barcelona man Alexsandr H
leb then forced a sprawling stop from Mannus shortly after coming off the bench, but Khatskevich’s side continued to look vulnerable at the back and were duly punished for a third time after 88 minutes.
The visitors failed to clear their lines as Jamie Ward headed the ball down before Grigg gleefully lashed past Gorbunov to ensure that the hosts finished with a flourish.
O’Neill’s men were cheered off the field and will head into next week’s final pre-tournament friendly against Slovakia in confident mood, while Belarus will look to regroup before facing the Republic of Ireland in Cork on Tuesday.
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