The best moments in football are so blissfully simple as to appear in slow motion. Northern Ireland roared in a manner so customary under Michael O’Neill with a late winner which owed everything to ease. Stuart Dallas found Paddy McNair on the right flank, with the cross tapped home by Josh Magennis. Northern Ireland’s toils in a game they fully deserved to win were suddenly forgotten as Windsor Park erupted. Make that six points out of six from encounters with Estonia and Belarustwo qualifiers.
Such reward is probably essential, of course, given Germany and the Netherlands linger in this section. Nonetheless, in continuing the brilliantly uplifting storyline created by O’Neill, Northern Ireland should cherish continuing success. They chortle in the face of nations with considerably greater football resources than their own.
O’Neill was dissatisfied with elements of his side’s performance in the 2-0 win over Estonia on Thursday but it was not enough for the manager to change his starting XI. Belarus tumbled to a 4-0 defeat by the Netherlands in their first game but O’Neill still expected more resistance than Estonia had offered at Windsor Park.