Ian Baraclough said he was seeking a positive result for Northern Ireland from tonight’s FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 qualifier against Switzerland – and he got it.
It was not the win that he would have wanted, however a point from a 0-0 draw still gives his team a fighting chance of grabbing at least a World Cup play-off spot.
It was a game of few chances in front of almost 16,000 raucous fans at the National Football Stadium at Windsor Park.
Northern Ireland keeper Bailey Peacock-Farrell produced another superb penalty save to keep the scores level just after the half-hour mark.
But there were very few other clearcut chances for either team, just lots of endeavour and some top class defensive work.
Northern Ireland were without several regulars. Ciaron Brown replaced Paddy McNair, who was suspended for the game. McNair was the only change from the team that started the World Cup qualifier against Lithuania last week.
The first opportunity in the European Qualifying Group C came on eight minutes when Northern Ireland striker Shayne Lavery burst forward at pace and bamboozled two Swiss defenders before screwing a shot just wide of the post.
Minutes later Lavery’s fine cross from the right look destined to be hit by the onrushing Jamal Lewis but Jordan Thompson appeared to get in his way and the chance went begging.
The back three of Craig Cathcart, Daniel Ballard and Ciaron Brown dealt comfortably with a series of long balls forward from the Swiss. Cathcart in particular was first class with his interceptions and blocks.
On 26 minutes Ali McCann cleverly wriggled free of his marker down the right but his delivery was blocked.
Around the half-hour mark Northern Ireland struggled to get hold of the ball as Switzerland stroked it around.
In the 32nd minute, as a Swiss cross from the right drifted aimlessly across a sea of bodies, Michael Smith was adjudged to have shoved Swiss attacker Ruben Vargas inside the penalty area, with the ref immediately awarding a penalty.
But Bailey Peacock-Farrell, for the second qualifier running, was the hero once again when he dived to his right to push out Haris Seferovic’s spot kick. His super stop was similar to the one he made against the Lithuanians during the 4-1 success in Vilnius.
Northern Ireland captain Steven Davis, who crafted some lovely passes in the first half, tried to get his team on the front foot quite a few times but the Swiss defence stood firm.
Just after the restart Vargas fired in a sumptuous free-kick which somehow evaded his Swiss team-mates and the Northern Ireland backline.
Then Thompson delivered a couple of free-kicks into the Swiss penalty area but the visitors’ defence cleared their lines.
A quick snapshot from an angle from Seferovic was well held by Peacock-Farrell.
On 68 minutes Conor Bradley came on for his first Northern Ireland appearance in a competitive game, replacing Michael Smith, while Dion Charles also made his competitive bow, replacing Conor Washington.
Ricardo Rodriguez fired a free-kick towards goal, however it was comfortably dealt with by Peacock-Farrell, while Cathcart, Ballard and Brown continued to deal with everything that was thrown at them.
George Saville replaced Thompson on 74 minutes and he was immediately into the thick of it. He had a shot blocked four minutes after coming on and then Bradley had an effort thwarted by the Swiss defence.
In the closing stages Brown blocked a Remo Freuler shot and minutes later Freuler missed the target before Swiss substitute Steven Zuber fired an effort over the top.
By that stage Northern Ireland had done enough to get a clean sheet and earn a deserved point.
Northern Ireland: Bailey Peacock-Farrell, Jamal Lewis, Daniel Ballard, Craig Cathcart, Ciaron Brown, Michael Smith, Alistair McCann, Steven Davis (captain), Conor Washington, Shayne Lavery, Jordan Thompson. Substitutes: (used) Conor Bradley, Dion Charles, George Saville, Jordan Jones; (unused) Trevor Carson (GK), Conor Hazard (GK), Tom Flanagan, Niall McGinn, Kyle Lafferty, Shane Ferguson, Gavin Whyte, Alfie McCalmont.
Switzerland: Yann Sommer (captain), Silvan Widmer, Nico Elvedi, Manuel Akanji, Denis Zakaria, Remo Freuler, Haris Seferovic, Fabian Frei, Ricardo Rodriguez, Christian Fassnacht, Ruben Vargas. Substitutes: Yvon Mvogo (GK), Gregor Kobel (GK), Ulisses Garcia, Andi Zeqiri, Renato Steffen, Steven Zuber, Djibril Sow, Sandro Lauper, Jordan Lotomba, Michel Aebischer, Fabian Schar, Cedric Zesiger.