Northern Ireland earn credible draw

Northern Ireland 1 Portugal 1

Northern Ireland 1 Portugal 1

Warren Feeney put a smile back on the faces of the Northern Ireland supporters as the province ended the year in style.

Back to back defeats against Wales and Austria in the World Cup qualifiers had taken some of the gloss off the famous victory against England.

However, they bounced back against a side ranked eighth in the world thanks to Feeney’s equaliser.

Given manager Lawrie Sanchez was without a number of key players, he could claim a moral victory.

There were good performances from goalkeeper Maik Taylor and midfielder Steve Davis and Portugal knew they had been in a game.

It was a polished performance by Taylor, who has made two high-profile mistakes for Birmingham in recent weeks.

Petit tried his luck from distance in the 11th minute but Taylor saved comfortably.

Then the Birmingham shot-stopper did well to tip over a magnificent chip from Tiago from 30 yards.

Northern Ireland hit back and forced a corner, which was taken by Steve Davis.

Colin Murdock got away from his marker but was unable to get any direction on his header.

Taylor was playing with a lot of confidence. He reacted swiftly to parry a downward header from Costinha in the 19th minute after a corner from Ronaldo.

He again came to Northern Ireland’s rescue in the 33rd minute when he made a good block after Petit powered in a shot from the edge of the area.

The province were relying on counter attacks against one of the world’s top teams and Chris Brunt raced upfield to fire in a shot which was deflected for a corner by Ricardo Carvalho.

Portugal took the lead in the 40th minute after Tiago released Ronaldo with a quick free-kick.

He delivered a cross from the left and Craigan lost his bearings to turn the ball past his own goalkeeper Taylor.

Jones should have equalised a minute before the break when he was clear at the back post as a ball from Stuart Elliott came in. However, he succeeded only in finding the arms of the goalkeeper.

Sanchez made two changes at half-time, bringing on Gareth McAuley and Grant McCann for Jones and Elliott.

Portugal striker Nuno Gomes, who replaced Pauleta at the break, was quickly into the action.

He raced down the left and tried to pick out Ronaldo but Taylor was able to make the interception.

Northern Ireland drew level in the 53rd minute when Feeney’s looping header evaded Paulo Santos after a cross from Gillespie.

It was the Luton’s striker first goal from open play – he opened his account from the penalty spot in the defeat of Azerbaijan.

Portugal were left stunned by that equaliser and Fulham’s Luis Boa Morte came off in the 61st minute to be replaced by Marco Caneira.

Despite scoring an own goal Craigan, not to mention Murdock, put in strong performances at the back and Feeney grew in confidence, trying to play a clever one-two with Steve Davis only for the move to break down.

Ronaldo came off in the 68th minute with Helder Postiga given a run out, while Belfast postman Peter Thompson was handed his debut in the 76th minute when he replaced James Quinn.

The Linfield striker has started this season with a bang scoring 18 goals for the Irish League club.

There was a moment of danger for Northern Ireland in the 81st minute when Murdock almost knocked the ball past a startled Taylor.

But they held on and can take heart from holding Portugal to a draw.

European Under-21 Championship Play-off, Second Leg result:

France U21 2 (Ribery 59, Briand 86 pen). England U21 1( Bent 55). Aggregate score: 3-2

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