Q Radio Sport
Late goals from Steven Davis and Gavin Whyte gave Northern Ireland a 3-1 win over Luxembourg, but Ian Baraclough's side did not have it all their own way in this friendly.
Substitutes Davis and Whyte scored in the 83rd and 85th minutes to snatch victory, but for much of the second half Luxembourg had looked the more likely winners after Marvin Martins' 58th-minute header had cancelled out Josh Magennis' early strike.
Baraclough, ditching his usual suit for slacks and a jumper, cut a more relaxed figure in the technical area in his first match since signing a new two-year contract last year - and the first since that memorable goalless draw with Italy at Windsor Park.
But despite a promising start and three goals, the manager will not have enjoyed everything he saw from his side at the Stade de Luxembourg.
Though they deservedly took the lead after dominating the opening exchanges, Luxembourg gradually took control of the game and looked the more likely winners after drawing level.
Luke Southwood, on as a half-time substitute to make his Northern Ireland debut, had to make a series of saves before Davis and Whyte delivered the win.
Josh Magennis found the corner of the net to give Northern Ireland the lead in their international friendly against Luxembourg.
Davis had started the night on the bench, with Jonny Evans, back in the side after his sooner-than-expected recovery from a hamstring injury, taking the captain's armband instead.
Shayne Lavery - making his first international appearance since September following injury - was quick to cause havoc as he twice came close to setting up Magennis in the first two minutes, then fired narrowly wide himself.
Corry Evans and Jordan Thompson both forced saves from Anthony Moris before the breakthrough came when Magennis muscled Maxime Chanot off the ball near the corner flag and raced at goal to finish from a tight angle.
But having taken the lead, Northern Ireland let their control of the game slip.
Missing the steadying influence of Davis in midfield, they allowed Luxembourg more of the ball and more chances, even if they could not get any of them on target in the first half as Daniel Sinani, on loan at Huddersfield from Norwich, and Gerson Rodrigues both spurned a series of chances
Evans, who had played 25 minutes for Leicester at the weekend in his first appearance since December, said on Thursday he would start the match and assess his condition at half-time, but the 34-year-old emerged after the break.
There was one change at half-time though as Southwood replaced Conor Hazard and quickly got his first touch as a mis-timed pass across goal from Tom Flanagan almost fell perfectly for Sinani. Southwood was needed again in the 53rd minute when Rodrigues laid the ball off for Mica Pinto, but there was no venom in his shot.
Northern Ireland had not got going and the equaliser came in the 58th minute. Craig Cathcart had done well to beat Leandro Barreiro to a dangerous cross, but from the resulting corner Martins was on hand to head in at the back post.
Sinani and Rodrigues then both tested Southwood with Luxembourg well on top, prompting a quadruple substitution from Baraclough as Evans, Magennis, Lavery and Thompson made way for Davis, Ciaron Brown, Dion Charles and Gavin Whyte.
The changes helped Northern Ireland stem the Luxembourg tide, but the hosts still looked the more likely winners until it all changed in a frantic finish.
First Davis poked home his 13th international goal - only David Healy and Kyle Lafferty have more for Northern Ireland - after Charles saw his shot blocked, then Whyte latched on to a long clearance from Southwood and ran at Moris, sliding a low shot under the Luxembourg goalkeeper to find the bottom corner.
FT: International friendly— Q Radio News (@qnewsdesk) March 25, 2022
Northern Ireland 3
Magennis 16 mins,
Davis 83, Whyte 85
Winning start to 2022.
Next up - Hungary at home, Tuesday.@NorthernIreland #GAWA pic.twitter.com/aOIF7ISNgN
Ian Baraclough admitted a 3-1 scoreline might have flattered Northern Ireland but praised his side's character in fighting to the finish.
"Did we deserve 3-1? Some people may say not but we took our chances," Baraclough said. "We played like a team that haven't been together for five months. Luxembourg, they've not been together either but they clicked straight away.
"We were a bit rusty but I'm delighted with the win. Did we deserve 3-1? Maybe not but that's the way the games go sometimes when you don't play well but come away with a win - maybe that's the mark of a decent team. It shows good
"It felt like a first pre-season game. It was frustrating that we couldn't get things going in possession. I thought we looked solid as a back three or a back five, compact, and we made it difficult for them to get behind us. But the energy wasn't there at times."
Luxembourg remained on top until Baraclough made a quadruple substitution - Ciaron Brown replaced Jonny Evans, who managed an hour in defence, while Davis, Whyte and Niall McGinn all came on to have a direct impact in the winning goals.
"It was planned anyway but it probably came at the perfect time," Baraclough said of those changes. "Jonny was going to come off after an hour, Davo was going to get half an hour, but we needed that spark of energy at that time."
● Northern Ireland have only lost two of their last eight internationals (W4 D2), while they scored as many goals on Friday evening as they had in their previous six games combined.
● Luxembourg have lost two of the three times they have hosted Northern Ireland, with their previous defeat also coming in a friendly by the same 1-3 scoreline (in February 2000).
● Since keeping two clean sheets in the space of three away games between November 2018 and June 2019, Northern Ireland have only kept two clean sheets in their last 15 away from home.
● Steven Davis came off the bench to score his 13th goal for Northern Ireland - only David Healy (36) and Kyle Lafferty (20) have ever netted more for the national team.
● There were just 119 seconds between Northern Ireland re-taking the lead at 2-1, and scoring their third of the game through Gavin Whyte.
● Josh Magennis scored his first goal in 10 appearances for Northern Ireland, with this his first since netting against Austria in November 2020. Five of his nine international goals have been scored away from home.