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Saturday 08 Oct 2016
Northern Ireland celebrate housewarming with four goals

Northern Ireland celebrated the official opening of the National Football Stadium at Windsor Park with a 4-0 World Cup qualifying defeat of San Marino thanks to goals from skipper Steven Davis, Jamie Ward and Kyle Lafferty.

Making their intentions clear right from the start, Michael O’Neill’s side almost went in front after five minutes when an excellent ball from Ward just missed the head of Josh Magennis while the stretching Stuart Dallas sent his attempt went wide of the target.

The pressure continued. Shane Ferguson delivered a dangerous ball in to cause confusion in the box, a short time after that Magennis turned to shoot but it wouldn't have counted after being adjudged to have raised his foot too high.

Dallas and Ferguson then combined for the latter to send over another cross only for it to elude every green shirt, followed by a Ward ball which 'keeper Aldo Simoncini did well to claim.

Despite their dominance, Northern Ireland were given a timely reminder not to underestimate their opponents on 21 minutes when Matteo Vitaioli fired a free-kick just over the bar.

But the seemingly inevitable home goal eventually arrived on 25 minutes.

Ferguson did well down the left again to get the ball into the area but as Magennis went to capitalise he was bundled over by Davide Simoncini and Alessandro Della Valle. Penalty! And who else should be called upon to step up and convert but the skipper himself, that man Davis, although - to his credit - Aldo Simoncini did get a hand to the ball but was no match for the power of the shot.

To their credit, San Marino didn't let their heads drop and tested the home defence again with ten minutes of the first half remaining when Mirko Palazzi ran into the box before cutting the ball back for Josè Hirsch to send a first time effort from the edge of the area narrowly over.

With three minutes to go until the break Magennis might have made it 2-0 only to head over from 12 yards after Niall McGinn crossed from a Conor McLaughlin ball. This was followed within a minute or so when a first time Davis effort drifted the wrong side of the post while yet another chance, this time from Ward, was thwarted by the diving Simoncini.

Neither side made any changes during the interval so it was very much a case of 'as you were' as play resumed with Ward creating an early chance, but his volley was directed straight into the arms of the 'keeper.

San Marino were reduced to ten men on 49 minutes when Palazzi needlessly ran into the back of Michael McGovern as he tried to throw the ball out and duly collected his second caution of the game for his trouble.

Trying to make the most of their numerical advantage Northern Ireland stepped up a gear, almost adding to their advantage only for Fabio Vitaioli to nick the ball from Magennis.

McGinn then had a go, cutting in from the left he beat a couple of defenders only to see Simoncini palm his shot out. Then, on the hour, Davis fired over from a good position as the search for that elusive second goal continued.

And so it went on. Magennis did well to turn his man and get a shot in only to look on as the 'keeper got down to make the save.

It was then Ward's turn to test Simoncini again with the loose ball from the save then falling for substitute Conor Washington but his effort flashed wide.

Eventually, with 12 minutes left, the San Marino rearguard was breached for a second time. Davis had a shot turned out a few moments beforehand but he did well to keep the ball live, laying it off for Ferguson to send in another ball from the left for substitute Kyle Lafferty to send a clever little touch across the 'keeper into the far corner.

Six minutes after that it was 3-0. Once more Ferguson caused the initial damage with a ball into the box which was met by a glancing Lafferty header onto which Ward burst in from the right to fire high into the opposite corner.

After getting his name on the scoresheet Lafferty was like a man possessed as he searched for another. He saw a further chance stopped by Simoncini and then, soon after that, a downward header blocked.

The big Fermanagh man's determination was rewarded with the final kick of the game as the clock ticked over to the fourth minute of stoppage time. Vauxhall Man-of-the-Match Davis lived up to the accolade by holding off a challenge before lifting the ball over to the back post for Lafferty to tap home Northern Ireland's fourth.

Elsewhere today in Group C, a Maksim Medvedev early goal handed Azerbaijan victory over Norway in Baku while Tuesday night's opponents, Germany, swept to a 3-0 win in Hamburg over the Czech Republic through strikes from Thomas Müller (2) and Toni Kroos.

Northern Ireland: McGovern, McLaughlin, Ferguson, McAuley, J. Evans, McGinn, Davis, Dallas, Norwood, Ward, Magennis subs Carson (not used), Mannus (not used), Hodson (not used), Paton (not used), Lafferty (replaced Magennis 73), Washington (replaced Dallas 65), C. Evans (not used), McGivern (not used), McNair (replaced McLaughlin 77), Hughes (not used), Lund (not used), Flanagan (not used)

San Marino: A. Simoncini, Berardi, Coppini, F. Vitaioli, D. Simoncini, M. Vitaioli, Hirsch, Stefanelli, Della Valle, Tosi, Palazzi subs Benedettini (not used), Manzaroli (not used), Valentini (not used), Selva (not used), Golinucci (replaced Coppini 71), Zafferani (replaced Stefanelli 87), Censoni (not used), Rinaldi (not used), Bianchi (not used), Berretti (not used), Cesarini (replaced Hirsch 56), Mazza (not used)

Referee: Istvan Kovacs (Romania)