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Northern Ireland 0 – 0 Slovenia – Disciplined defensive work helps Northern Ireland to a vital point

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By Ryan Keaney

Wednesday 30 March 2011

Northern Ireland had to dig deep at times as they produced an excellent defensive performance to earn a 0-0 draw against Slovenia in their 2012 European Championship qualifier.

Missing Kyle Lafferty, Steven Davies, Maik Taylor and Aaron Hughes through injury, as well as the suspended David Healy, the task of earning three points always looked like a tough one for the weakened side that Nigel Worthington was forced to field. Warren Feeney was deployed as the lone striker with Chris Brunt his midfield link. Chris Baird and Sammy Clingan anchored the midfield and wide-men Grant McCann and Corry Evans were expected to support the attack as much as possible.

Slovenia arrived to Windsor Park with few household names in their side but having risen from 69th to 19th in the FIFA rankings over the last two years. Northern Ireland tried to catch their visitors cold from the kick-off and be positive but it was Slovenia who dominated. The visitors enjoyed large amounts of possession and created a number of early chances. The majority flew off target and those that were more accurate went straight at Lee Camp.

The hosts were forced to rely on set-pieces to put pressure on Samir Handanovic in the Slovenia goal. Unfortunately, poor deliveries from Brunt and McCann meant that the Palermo stopper wasn’t tested in the first-half. Clingan did curl a free-kick above the angle just before the half time whistle but, even then, it appeared Handanovic had it covered.

Slovenia’s control continued into the second-half and they could have taken the lead just three minutes after the break. Neat work down the left hand side exposed the Northern Ireland defence and the ball was cut back to the feet of Milivoje Novakovic. The big striker should have done better but he shot harmlessly over the bar.

Northern Ireland tried to be a lot more positive with their attacking intents and more bodies raced forward when given the chance. Both teams had chances to break the deadlock. Gareth McAuley had a header cleared off the line and Valter Birsa’s trusty left peg nearly beat Lee Camp.

As the game entered the last 10 minutes, Northern Ireland very nearly took all three points with their best move of the game. Jonny Evans picked out his brother with a long ball that was squared into the path of the on-rushing Chris Brunt. The West Brom man reached out his left foot and was only a matter of inches from poking the ball home.

In injury time, Zlatko Dedic was denied Slovenia’s best chance by the assured Camp. The substitute beat the offside trap and was clean through, only for the Nottingham Forest ‘keeper to read his attempts to place the shot and parry it away.

The goalless draw helps neither side in the race for second place behind the runaway leaders of Group C, Italy. However, a 1-1 draw between the other two teams in the hunt, Estonia and Serbia, means that just two points separate the four teams.

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