Northern Ireland 1-0 Latvia: Steven Davis' goal the difference in dire game
Steven Davis and Josh Magennis celebrate (Source: Sky Sports)

On a night where Northern Ireland celebrated their qualification for next year's Euros in front of their own fans, they threatened to play out a boring 0-0 with Latvia before Steven Davis rescued the day.  Ending a run of 23 friendly games without a win, Michael O'Neill's experimental tactics paid off.  

Northern Ireland dominate throughout in a match of little quality

Playing in an unconventional 3-5-2 formation, Northern Ireland enjoyed the vast majority of the game's play without ever dominating.  Throughout the 90 minutes they continually found space behind a Latvian defence which continued to carelessly push up the field, allowing Kyle Lafferty, James Ward and Stuart Dallas to stretch the back four. 

But the first real chance came as a result of a Latvian defender, when Ward found space on the right and fired in an inviting cross which was awkwardly turned towards his own 'keeper by a Latvian defender, who looked relieved to see the ball land in the arms of Andris Vanins

As Latvia looked increasingly poor, although the boys in green were not much better, the game continually got stuck in midfield.  Although Northern Ireland created several chances in quick succession, with Oliver Norwood and Lafferty both going close.  Lafferty was put clean through on goal but he somehow dragged his shot wide.  

When Vladislavs Gabovs looks back on tonight, it will not be one he will remember with found memories, as the right back was continually pulled out of position and exploited throughout the 90 minutes.  Time and time again, the green waves targeted Gabovs, and time and time it proved fruitful.  However, for all of their possession within the final third and behind the defence, they only really ever forced one proper save from Vanins, with Lafferty firing towards the bottom corner from Norwood's cross, but the 'keeper was equal to it. 

They would come even closer just before the interval, when Jonny Evans headed wide after some pinball from Norwood's floated free kick. 

After the break, and with Roy Carroll now between the sticks for his 42nd cap, Northern Ireland tried to push on against an increasingly fragile Latvia.  However, try as they might, they continually lacked quality in the final third. 

Lafferty was again proving the bright spark as he created space on the edge of the box by holding off two defenders before firing a shot straight at Venins, the FC Sion keeper looking solid on a busy night.

The second half was following a similar patern to the first, Northern Ireland were knocking but not banging on the door.  As O'Neill began to ring the changes, Josh Magennis and Corey Evan joined the action but were having little impact. 

Steven Davis the decider 

However, the decisive moment of the match finally came in the 55th minute, when skipper Steven Davis broke free from a stranded rearguard to latch onto Chris McGlaughlin's long ball.  His initial header was well saved but Davis was first to react to the rebound as he prodded the ball into the net.  

This would prove to be the only bit of quality on a desparately poor night, and towards the end Latvia suddenly looked the more likely to score, with sub Artjoms Rudnevs volleying narrowly wide when unmarked in the box.  

He really should have scored and the lack of killer touch perhaps summed up the night. 

Northern Ireland held on for the win and in truth were the better of two awful teams on the night.  Davis' bursting run through proved the difference, but on another night the match could have easily finished 0-0.  

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