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Northern Ireland 3 Belarus 0: Lafferty marks 50th cap with goal

First-half goals from Kyle Lafferty and Conor Washington and a late strike from Will Grigg helped steer Northern Ireland to a comfortable 3-0 friendly victory over Belarus at Windsor Park.

The win extended the hosts’ unbeaten run to 11 games and provided a further confidence boost for Michael O’Neill’s side ahead of their upcoming Euro 2016 campaign.

Lafferty’s goal came on the occasion of his 50th cap, while Washington nettedd his second in as many friendlies and both strikers are set to be included in O’Neill’s finalised squad which is due to be announced on Saturday.

In-form Wigan Athletic star Grigg may also have booked his place in the squad as he opened his international account with a well-taken effort two minutes from time.

Northern Ireland had headed into the game unbeaten at home since September 2013 and that impressive record was rarely threatened once Lafferty fired them in front in the opening minutes.

Belarus, meanwhile, had kept five consecutive clean sheets before arriving in Belfast and were in the midst of an unbeaten run stretching back to last September.

But they struggled to recover from that early setback and gifted the hosts their second goal just before the break courtesy of a glaring error from goalkeeper Andrey Gorbunov.

And although Alyaksandr Khatskevich’s men enjoyed plenty of possession throughout the contest, they struggled to break down a resolute Northern Ireland side who sit more than 50 places above them in the FIFA rankings. 

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.

The 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.

To their credit, 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 Hleb 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.

Again the visitors failed to clear their lines, Jamie Ward heading the ball down and Grigg gleefully lashing past Gorbunov to ensure that the hosts finished with a flourish.

O’Neill’s men were cheered from 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.

Fri 27 May, 2016
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