Chris Brunt’s comical own goal failed to take the shine off Northern Ireland’s achievement in reaching the World Cup play-offs on Sunday.
Brunt volleyed into his own net with 19 minutes remaining as Michael O’Neill’s men slumped to a 1-0 defeat in Norway but were still celebrating come the final whistle after Slovakia leapfrogged Scotland in Group F earlier in the day to ensure Northern Ireland could not end the campaign as the worst runners-up in the UEFA section.
This was a drab contest as Norway enjoyed the better chances but, without injured talisman Josh King, looked unlikely to make the breakthrough until Brunt’s bizarre intervention.
A fine campaign, which included a run of five straight victories, has concluded with two consecutive defeats for Northern Ireland, but that mattered little to the partying travelling fans in Oslo.
— Northern Ireland (@NorthernIreland) October 8, 2017
Opportunities were few and far between in the opening stages and a tame Steven Davis effort scarcely troubled Orjan Nyland in the Norway goal.
The first half continued to typify an end-of-campaign dead rubber as the occasional blast from distance flew hopelessly off target, before there was belatedly some action of note in the 10 minutes prior to the interval.
Michael McGovern was forced into an awkward first save from Birger Meling’s unorthodox 20-yard volley, with the defender sending a second strike over the top from the subsequent corner.
Nyland then recovered a spilled Davis shot and McGovern was tested again when Stefan Johansen curled a free-kick towards goal.
A tight offside call then denied Norway the opener shortly after the restart as McGovern saved instinctively from Tore Reginiussen’s close-range stab, which triggered the linesman’s flag, before Alexander Soderlund tucked away the rebound.
When the goal finally did arrive, though, both McGovern and Brunt were at fault. The goalkeeper failed to deal with a Johansen cross that his defender then hacked into the roof of the net.
Northern Ireland’s response was strong as Stuart Dallas fizzed an effort wide and the hosts escaped a goalmouth scramble.
There would be no equaliser, though, with George Saville squandering a clear late opportunity.
Indeed, it was Norway who ended the game on top and Soderlund was denied by an offside flag for the second time – despite the pass forward appearing to come from a Northern Irish boot prior to a smart finish.
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