Magennis double maintains N Ireland qualifying hopes

Steven Davis fires through a crowded penalty area in the first half

Josh Magennis was on target twice as Northern Ireland scored three goals in eight second-half minutes to see off stubborn San Marino 3-0 in Serravalle.

Steven Davis netted a penalty as his side moved within a point of securing the second place in Group C which could clinch a play-off for a World Cup spot.

After a nervous first 70 minutes, Magennis side-footed in the opener and then headed home from close range.

Davis’s goal ensured NI have won four games in a row for the first time ever.

Northern Ireland now need just a draw from their next match against the Czech Republic in Belfast on Monday to seal the group runners-up spot after the Czechs lost 2-1 at home to Germany.

The Germans head the table on 21 points, with Northern Ireland second on 16 and the Czech Republic on nine.

Norway beat Azerbaijan in Friday’s other game in the group but neither side are in contention for qualification as they both lie on seven points from seven fixtures.

Michael O’Neill’s side have now won their last four qualifiers and have kept clean sheets in four successive games for the first time in 31 years as they bid to make the World Cup finals for the first time since Mexico 1986.

First-half frustration

The visitors set out with an attacking formation, in contrast to their opponents, who fielded five defenders and four midfielders in a bid to avoid a repeat of the 4-0 reverse they suffered when the sides met at Windsor Park last October.

Northern Ireland had scored 11 in their previous three clashes with San Marino but passed up a series of chances in the first half as they struggled to control the ball on a difficult, uneven playing surface.

Ranked 181 places above their hosts in the Fifa world rankings, Northern Ireland predictably dominated possession and territory in the opening period but were unable to break down San Marino’s defences.

Skipper Davis was off-target with a shot and a header and saw another effort blocked by defender Davide Simoncini.

Oliver Norwood glanced a header wide, while Magennis twice went close before seeing his glancing header from a corner cannon off the inside of the post and run to safety a minute before the break.

Conor Washington, paired with Kyle Lafferty up front, had a drive palmed away by Aldo Simoncini and then dragged a left-foot shot wide of the post with the goal gaping.

Magennis goals ease NI nerves

With Northern Ireland struggling after the interval, O’Neill’s introduction of Shane Ferguson at the expense of the ineffective Lafferty saw Magennis switched from the flank into a central striking role, a move which proved the catalyst for the long-awaited breakthrough.

Magennis, who had scored goals for Charlton Athletic in consecutive league games against Northampton and Rotherham, notched his second international goal to deliver relief among the 2,500 travelling supporters.

The forward saw his initial header from Chris Brunt’s left-wing cross denied by Simoncini but was on hand to fire home after Davis squared the ball back to him inside the area.

Washington provided the delivery for the former Kilmarnock forward to nod in his second of the night on his 30th appearance five minutes later.

Davis’s spot-kick after a handball by Giovanni Bonini extended the margin of victory and ensures that Northern Ireland head into their next game with confidence.

For the Southampton midfielder it was his 10th international goal and his third against San Marino, the captain having also found the net in the 4-0 victories in World Cup qualifiers in October 2008 and October 2016.

Man of the match

Josh Magennis
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San Marino

  • 1Simoncini
  • 4BiordiBooked at 66mins