Northern Ireland earn precious point in Prague

  • Czech Republic 0 - 0 Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland began their World Cup qualifying campaign with a battling point following a scoreless draw with Czech Republic in Prague on Sunday night.

Once again the key quality that helped Michael O’Neill’s men qualify for their first ever European Championships in France this summer was evident as they proved hard to beat.

A clean sheet and a precious point was reward for their performance.

Northern Ireland may have rode their luck at times, but deserved their share of the spoils with Jonny Evans magnificent at the back to earn the Man of the Match award.

There was an early scare for Northern Ireland as the hosts almost grabbed the lead.

A great ball in from the left wing from Ladislav Kreici was cleared under pressure by Jonny Evans.

Seconds later, another dangerous delivery fell to Pavel Kaderabek, but he could not find the net from a difficult angle.

It was goalkeeper Michael McGovern who helped launch a superb counter attack - his long clearance was gathered by Jamie Ward who picked out Steve Davis and his shot was deflected for a corner which Gareth McAuley rose to meet, but he could not test the keeper.

Conor McLaughlin made two excellent blocks to clear the threat as the Czechs broke quickly out of defence, first denying Novak and then Darida whose effort was on target.

However, it was Northern Ireland who carved out the best chance on 29 minutes.

It came just after an overhead kick from Kyle Lafferty was easily saved by Vaclik.

NI's Kyle Lafferty goes for an overhead kick. Credit: Presseye

McLaughlin slipped a great ball into the path of Paddy McNair and, with the Czech back line exposed, he went for goal only for his well-struck effort to be pushed away for a corner by the keeper.

A scoreless first 45 minutes will have pleased manager O’Neill - the Czechs had plenty of the ball, but they never really tested McGovern in the Northern Ireland goal with the defence also standing firm under pressure.

A nervous start to the second period saw Northern Ireland lucky not to concede with Kadlec just inches away from making contact close in.

Then McGovern put himself under pressure with a poor contact, but he recovered to gather the loose ball.

The home side suddenly came to life on 54 minutes with a delightful move that saw Kadlec in acres of space to line up his shot - but when it came, it was directed straight at a relieved McGovern.

NI's Michael McGovern in action. Credit: Presseye

At this stage, the Czechs were well on top – but, on the hour mark, superb work on the left by Stuart Dallas saw him whip in a great cross which just eluded Josh Magennis, who minutes earlier had replaced Lafferty.

Novac should have given his side the lead on 63 minutes – only he knows how he missed from a few yards out, as the ball fell to him with just McGovern to beat.

Despite being under intense pressure, another chance fell to Northern Ireland as the ball fell to Davis but, before he could turn and shoot, his way to goal was blocked.

As the minutes ticked away, the Czechs still kept hunting for that all important winner and it almost came at the death with Krejci seeing his shot fly inches wide of the post.

The Green and White Army were in full voice throughout the game and also at the final whistle as Northern Ireland begin Group C with a fine away point.

NI's Josh Magennis in action. Credit: Presseye

Czech Republic: Vaclik, Kaderabek, Suchy, Kadlec, Novak, Skalak, Darida, Pavelka, Krejci, Kadlec, (Vydra 77 mins), Skoda (Necid 68 mins)

Northern Ireland: McGovern, McLaughlin, McAuley, Evans, Ferguson, (Hodson 65 mins), McNair, Davis, Norwood, Dallas, Ward, (McGinn 74 mins), Lafferty (Magennis 59 mins)