The winner may have come in added time but Northern Ireland lived up to Ian Baraclough’s prediction that they would get the better of Kosovo in Belfast this afternoon.
A superb header from Josh Magennis with 92 minutes on the clock helped to secure a 2-1 victory, Northern Ireland’s first ever win in the UEFA Nations League.
Substitute Gavin Whyte grabbed an equaliser before providing a wonderful assist for the winner.
Kosovo bossed the first half of the League C Group 2 clash at the National Football Stadium at Windsor Park and took the lead just before the hour mark.
But Northern Ireland were much better after the break. They upped the tempo and worked their socks off to register a first victory in the Nations League after a run of 14 matches without a win in the competition.
Northern Ireland manager Baraclough said before the game that the players were hungry for a win and they kept on battling throughout the 90 minutes-plus.
The visitors were on the front foot early on and the first clearcut chance of the game fell to Kosovan midfielder Florent Muslija. His curling shot was pushed away by Northern Ireland keeper Bailey Peacock-Farrell. Winger Milot Rashica got on the end of the rebound but his effort was weak.
Peacock-Farrell clasped a Rashica drive before Kosovan defender Fidan Alita’s effort from an overhead kick sailed over the top.
Conor Bradley whipped in a dangerous cross before Muslija blasted a free-kick from 35 yards which the Northern Ireland keeper did well to keep out. Elbasan Rashani then headed over the top for the visitors.
George Saville had a shot blocked, however Northern Ireland’s first real chance of the game came after the half-hour mark when Dion Charles, making his first start on his 12th appearance for his country, stung the palms of Kosovan keeper Arijanet Muric with a powerful shot.
As half-time approached Charles had another go and forced another decent stop from Muric.
At the start of the second half Bradley raced into the area and cut inside his marker, however his low shot was straight at the keeper.
Charles had the ball in the net in the 55th minute, however his fine effort from just inside the area was ruled out because he was deemed to be in an offside position when he received the ball.
Three minutes later Kosovo took the lead through an excellent strike from captain Vedat Muriqi. His screamer from 18 yards nestled in the bottom corner.
On 63 minutes Jonny Evans had a shot blocked as Northern Ireland applied pressure.
A minute later Muric produced an excellent save from a Josh Magennis header, pushing the ball on to the bar, and then the Kosovo keeper saved at the feet of Bradley.
Paddy McNair fired a shot over the top as Northern Ireland continued to push for an equaliser. Captain Steven Davis scooped a shot straight at Muric.
In the 81st minute Peacock-Farrell produced an excellent save to keep out a fizzing effort from Muriqi.
Moments later Northern Ireland got their equaliser. Substitute Shayne Lavery raced towards the area, shook off his marker and played the ball across the face of goal where fellow sub Whyte was on hand to blast it into the back of the net.
The boys in green and white continued to push forward and substitute Jordan Thompson had a shot from distance which Muric comfortably collected.
As full-time approached Muriqi should have done much better with a close range shot which flew over the bar, Peacock-Farrell saved an effort from Kosovo sub Zymer Bytyqi and fellow sub Arber Zeneli’s long range piledriver just went past the upright.
However, two minutes into added time, Northern Ireland grabbed the winner. Whyte sped down the right flank and his pinpoint cross was superbly headed into the top corner by Magennis.
Northern Ireland: Bailey Peacock-Farrell, Paddy McNair, Jamal Lewis, Tom Flanagan, Jonny Evans, Corry Evans, Conor Bradley, Steven Davis (captain), Josh Magennis, Dion Charles, George Saville. Substitutes: (used) Jordan Thompson, Shayne Lavery, Gavin Whyte, Shane Ferguson, Alistair McCann; (unused) Conor Hazard, Luke Southwood, Kofi Balmer, Patrick Lane, Shea Charles, Ciaron Brown.
Kosovo: Arijanet Muric (GK), Florent Hadergjonaj, Fidan Aliti, Betim Fazliji, Milot Rashica, Florent Muslija, Bersant Celina, Elbasan Rashani, Vedat Muriqi (captain), Ibrahim Dresevic, Donat Rrudhani. Substitutes: Samir Ujkani (GK), Visar Bekaj (GK), Hekuran Kryeziu, Arber Zeneli, Amir Rrahmani, Lindon Emerllahu, Lumbardh Dellova, Ilir Krasniqi, Florian Loshaj, Toni Domgjoni, Zymer Bytyqi.