EURO 2016

Glory, glory night for Northern Ireland at Euro 2016

EURO 2016By Stephen Looney
McAuley scored a stunning opener for Northern Ireland
McAuley scored a stunning opener for Northern Ireland

Ukraine 0 Northern Ireland 2

Northern Ireland are back in contention to make it through to the knock-out stages of Euro 2016 after Gareth McAuley and Niall McGinn gave the boys in green a crucial win over Ukraine in the Stade de Lyon.

The rangy defender from Larne headed home home on 49 minutes and McGinn sealed victory deep into added time to haul Michael O'Neill's team back into contention in Group C of these Euro 2016 finals in France.

O'Neill made five changes to the team that lost to Poland, bringing Corry Evans, Stuart Dallas, Aaron Hughes, Jamie Ward and Conor Washington in for Conor McLaughlin, Shane Ferguson, Chris Baird, Paddy McNair and Kyle Lafferty.

And indeed the Ulstermen were much more composed and assured with better shape, organisation and passing in the familiar 4-3-3 formation that got Northern Ireland to these finals.

Craig Cathcart went closest to scoring for Northern Ireland in the first half, meeting a well worked Jamie Ward corner to nod just over the bar on 34 minutes.

Ukraine keeper Andriy Pyatov had to batter an angled Steven Davis shot away three minutes before the break while at the other end, Northern Ireland's defence coped admirably with danger men Andriy Yarmolenko, Yevhen Konoplyanka and Yevhen Seleznyov.

Northern Ireland took the lead deservedly on 49 minutes when Ollie Norwood's raking free kick from the left found McAuley unmarked round the back and the West Brom man powered his header beyond Pyatov with aplomb.

Ukraine immediately chased the equaliser and Michael McGovern was called upon twice to deny before referee Pavel Kralovec took the players off briefly due to a torrent of hailstones that followed thunder and lightning.

And when play resumed, Northern Ireland weathered a storm as frustration set in that resuklted in Jamie Ward being booked, but still Ukrainian failed to find a breakthrough despite intense pressure and Yarmolenko going close on 89 minutes.

Substitute Niall McGinn replaced Ward on 69 minutes and slotted home in the sixth minute of added time to give Northern Ireland one of the most famous victories in their history.