Injury-time goal secures big away win for Northern Ireland in World Cup qualifiers

Michael O’Neill’s side were heading for a goalless draw in Azerbaijan until the 92nd minute.

Image: Presseye/William Cherry/INPHO

STUART DALLAS STRUCK in the 92nd minute to earn Northern Ireland a dramatic 1-0 victory over Azerbaijan and clinch a huge three points in their World Cup qualifying campaign.

Northern Ireland’s grip on second position in Group C looked set to loosen with a goalless draw in Baku, but Dallas popped up in second-half stoppage time to keep the pressure on leaders Germany.

Michael O’Neill took his players for a training camp in Turkey to prepare them for the heat and humidity of the Azeri capital and it paid dividends as they managed to keep fighting until the final moments.

Chances were at a premium throughout and Afran Ismayilov spurned two great second-half opportunities to give Robert Prosinecki’s side a win that would have put them level with Northern Ireland.

But where Ismayilov failed Dallas succeeded, drilling past Azerbaijan goalkeeper Kamran Aghayev late on as O’Neill’s side found the back of the net away from home for the first time in four games.

Northern Ireland could now take a huge step towards a place at Russia 2018 in their next set of internationals against San Marino and Czech Republic.

Liam Boyce netted his first international goal in Northern Ireland’s 1-0 victory over New Zealand last week and was rewarded by O’Neill with a starting berth ahead of Kyle Lafferty.

Boyce and Jonny Evans failed to hit the target inside the opening six minutes as Azerbaijan dictated the tempo of the match, which they kept at a patient, measured pace.

It was not until the 23rd minute that the hosts penetrated the box, Ramil Sheydaev latching onto a ball in behind and blasting over from an acute angle.

Gareth McAuley appeared to sustain a thigh injury while chasing the striker back and had to be replaced by Niall McGinn, resulting in a change of system to a four-man defence.

Opportunities remained limited ahead of half-time, Boyce narrowly missing out on connecting with a teasing Chris Brunt delivery before Pavlo Pashaev shot straight at Michael McGovern.

The second half continued in the same vein as the first, Azerbaijan proving toothless in possession and Northern Ireland being forced to work hard to get it off them.

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Brazil-born midfielder Richard Almeida picked out Ismayilov on the right side of the box with a sublime cross-field pass, but the Qarabag midfielder’s low drive was pushed away by McGovern.

Josh Magennis saw a header from Oliver Norwood’s corner held comfortably by Aghayev before O’Neill sent Lafferty on for Boyce with 13 minutes remaining.

Ismayilov blazed a glorious chance high off the target and it proved costly come stoppage time.

Evans cushioned down a cross in the box and, despite his first touch appearing to get away from him, Dallas fired past the idle Aghayev to keep Northern Ireland on track for a play-off spot.

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