Josh Magennis headed the winner in added time as Northern Ireland came from behind to end their National League tie with a 2-1 win over Kosovo at Windsor Park.
Ten minutes after substitute Gavin Whyte gave Northern Ireland hope by equalizing, the Cardiff winger sent in the cross for Magennis to bring home a much-needed winner for Northern Ireland and their manager Ian Baraclough.
An afternoon that began with Conor McMenamin becoming the second player in as many days to be sent home from the squad following a video circulating online threatened to take a turn for the worse after Vedat Muriqi’s 58th-minute strike fans yelled for the manager’s head again.
Instead, Northern Ireland clinched three points in the competition for the first time in 15 attempts, escaping imminent danger of relegation to the bottom division.
After a miserable run of results in June put his side in a dangerous position, Baraclough had tried to spread optimism this week by addressing the return of key players who had missed these summer games.
It was reflected in a team sheet that showed eight changes from the 2-2 draw with Cyprus three and a half months ago, with Jamal Lewis making his first appearance since last November and the likes of Corry Evans, Tom Flanagan and Magennis returning to the crease .
But there was no McMenamin on the team roster and less than an hour before kick-off the Irish FA announced the 27-year-old, who only made his debut in June, had been sent home after video surfaced showing the Glentoran appeared to show winger chanting a pro-IRA slogan.
That came a day after Kyle Lafferty was sent home to a video that appeared to show him using alleged sectarian language as part of an investigation into his club, Kilmarnock.
The miserable mood continued when Kosovo, who won 3-2 against Northern Ireland in Pristina earlier in the year, threatened early on.
Bailey Peacock-Farrell couldn’t save Florent Muslija’s shot and was grateful to see Milot Rashica save, before denying Rashica again and seeing Fidan Aliti hook a shot over the goal.
It was 15 minutes before Northern Ireland threatened, with Betim Fazliji almost converting the ball into his own net after Magennis sent in a cross from Paddy McNair.
A better chance presented itself just before the break when Dion Charles – making his 12th international start – broke away from Fazliji but then placed his shot too close to goalkeeper Ari Muric – the man who made the Peacock -Farrell on the bench stops at Burnley.
Early in the second half, George Saville slotted the ball through to Conor Bradley, who deftly turned inside to break away from his defender but then couldn’t put enough power into a left foot kick.
Charles had the ball in the net in the 55th minute after Saville played a ball down the middle, but the Bolton striker was denied his first international goal as he was wide offside.
And things got even worse for Northern Ireland just three minutes later, when Kosovo’s record goalscorer Muriqi fired in a crisp shot from the edge of the box into the bottom corner.
Northern Ireland recovered. Muriqi blocked Jonny Evans’ header on the line, then Muric stopped Magennis from looping.
Peacock-Farrell then made a crucial save to deny Muriqi in what would have been the killing blow, and moments later Northern Ireland were level as Shayne Lavery, who had just been brought on, broke free of Fazliji and ran for goal, den Found traffic but square ball for substitute colleague Whyte to fire home.
Peacock-Farrell made another save to deny Zymer Bytyqi and Magennis, who were capitalized on death.
https://www.independent.co.uk/sport/football/josh-magennis-northern-ireland-nations-league-ian-baraclough-kosovo-b2174608.html Northern Ireland finally end the Nations League winless streak with a late comeback win over Kosovo