Northern Ireland have taken a massive step towards qualification for Euro 2016 after a 2-1 win over Finland at Windsor Park.
Kyle Lafferty’s first-half double was enough for the hosts as they held on to record their fourth win in five games in Group F.
Michael O’Neill praised the mentality of the players in recording another victory.
O’Neill said: “I’m delighted. I had drilled into the boys that we needed to stay focused throughout the game.
“Finland came with a plan but yet again we stuck to our game and got a huge win here in front of our supporters.”
The away side started positively, playing possession-based football in defence and midfield but with little end product.
This style of play almost landed Finland in trouble as a simple square ball landed the Finnish defence in trouble and sent Jamie Ward through on goal. The Derby County winger fluffed his lines and sent his shot wide of the target.
It was a let-off for the Finnish but it gave Northern Ireland the impetus that this game was there for the taking.
As we’ve so often seen in the last few games, Lafferty was to be the hero yet again in front of goal for Northern Ireland.
His opener came in the 33rd minute. An Ollie Norwood free-kick was cleared to Niall McGinn and his flick-on header was met by a sweet volley from Lafferty. The sweeping finish found the bottom corner and Windsor Park erupted.
Five minutes later, Northern Ireland made it two. Some fantastic work down the right by the impressive Conor McLaughlin led to a cross and the imperious Lafferty headed home, bringing his tally for the campaign to five goals.
The game was transformed, as Finland looked stunned by the quickfire double. At half time, the mood in the stands was that of jubilation. Surely Northern Ireland couldn’t throw this away?
Captain Steven Davis was replaced through injury at half-time and the Finnish controlled the opening stages of the second half, wrestling back control in the midfield.
Again, they struggled to create chances but with time against them, the away side threw everything at Northern Ireland.
Their late flurry was to be rewarded as Berat Sadik turned home in injury time, despite suspicions of offside.
It made for a nervous last two minutes as Finland committed men forward in search of a draw. But Northern Ireland held on with the Kop at their backs.
Table-topping Romania visit Windsor on June 13, a win there and we can surely start dusting off the French phrase books for next summer.