Northern Ireland grabbed their second point in the second edition of the UEFA Nations League after drawing with Romania in Belfast tonight.
Ian Baraclough’s team led through a Liam Boyce goal, scored early in the second half, but conceded late on, leaving the final score at one apiece at the National Football Stadium at Windsor Park.
It was Northern Ireland’s final match in the six-game series in League B Group 1 and they played well before inviting pressure towards the end of the game.
Before kick-off news filtered through that the boys in green and white had been relegated to the third tier of the Nations League for the third edition of the competition.
Romania were awarded three points and a walkover 3-0 win after Norway failed to field in Bucharest on Sunday due to Covid restrictions imposed by the Norwegian government.
That UEFA decision meant third-placed Romania could not be caught by Northern Ireland, who had only one point to their name in the group prior to kick-off tonight.
The hosts, showing five changes from the team that lined out against Austria on Sunday, applied the first bit of pressure. In the second minute Paddy McNair whipped in a free-kick which was met by Daniel Ballard, however his header was off target.
On eight minutes Romania had their first effort. Dennis Man fired in a low shot which was easily gathered by Bailey Peacock-Farrell.
Romania prodded and probed but found a solid defensive wall in front of them. Just like in the Austria game Michael Smith was deployed in front of a back three and worked his socks off in the opening half-hour.
Matthew Kennedy, making his debut, had a couple of decent touches in the game before producing a good delivery across the area in the 31st minute. Liam Boyce flicked the ball on but it evaded his team-mates.
Minutes later Stuart Dallas produced a fine delivery down the right which was cleared by the visitors’ defence. Then McNair took a corner which was met by Boyce, however his shot fizzed over the top.
The busy Smith blocked a shot from Florin Tanase and down the other end Dallas charged towards goal. He tried to find Boyce, who was in space to his right, but the pass was too strong and the ball ran out of play.
On 42 minutes Kennedy produced another good cross into the area. It was met by Boyce but he headed the ball against a Romanian defender’s head. From the resulting corner Craig Cathcart sent a looping header over the bar.
Northern Ireland looked lively after the restart, delivering crosses from both flanks, and Boyce steered a header across the face of goal before he opened the scoring on 56 minutes. From a corner McNair picked out Smith as he advanced into the area. His left foot cross found Boyce at the back post and the striker bundled the ball home from close range.
On 63 minutes Kennedy found Alistair McCann with another good cross and the midfielder hooked a shot just wide of the upright.
As the game wore on the visitors started to push forward and Peacock-Farrell produced an excellent save on 76 minutes when he pushed a rasping shot from Ravzin Marin over the bar.
Ethan Galbraith made his first start in a competitive match for Northern Ireland when he replaced Smith three minutes later, but within two minutes he was watching Peacock-Farrell pick the ball out of the net.
The Romanian equaliser came at the end of a slick move which eventually saw Tanase pull the ball back to substitute Eric Bicfalvi and he tucked the ball past the Northern Ireland keeper.
Minutes later Galbraith raced towards goal but his final ball was loose. Then, in added time, a McNair delivery from a free-kick found substitute Conor McLaughlin in the area but he steered his header wide.
The result means Northern Ireland are still searching for a win in the Nations League. In the first edition of the competition they failed to gain a point, while they have two points to show for their efforts in the second edition, both coming from draws with Romania, who finished on eight points.
Northern Ireland: Bailey Peacock-Farrell, Stuart Dallas, Daniel Ballard, Jonny Evans (captain), Craig Cathcart, Matthew Kennedy, Michael Smith, Paddy McNair, Alistair McCann, Josh Magenns, Liam Boyce. Substitutes: (used) Jamal Lewis, Conor Washington, Conor McLaughlin, Ethan Galbraith; (unused) Michael McGovern, Conor Hazard, Tom Flanagan, Ryan McLaughlin, Gavin Whyte.
Romania: Ciprian Tatarusanu (captain), Ionut Nedelcearu, Iulian Cristea, Alin Tosca, Valentin Cretu, Razvan Marin, Dan Nistor, Camora, Dennis Man, Denis Alibec, Florin Tanase. Substitutes: Cristian Balgradean (GK), David Lazar (GK), Bogdan Mitrea, George Puscas, Alexandru Maxim, Cristian Ganea, Vasile Mogos, Alexandru Cristian Albu, Bogdan Tiru, Eric Bicfalvi, Cristian Manea, Alexandru Baluta.