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  1. ITV Report

Northern Ireland kick off Euro 2020 campaign with Estonia win

A successful penalty from Steven Davis secured the win for Michael O'Neill's side. Credit: Pacemaker

Northern Ireland delivered the victory manager Michael O'Neill had called essential as they saw off Estonia 2-0 in their opening Euro 2020 qualifier at Windsor Park.

After a tough draw paired them with Holland and Germany in Group C, Northern Ireland made sure the most winnable fixture of all led to three points as Niall McGinn and Steven Davis struck in the second half, the latter from the penalty spot.

Steven Davis celebrates his goal during this evening's game at the National Stadium. Credit: Pacemaker

It was a first competitive win since September 2017, putting to bed the frustration of last year's Nations League in which they failed to muster a point.

The first half had brought unwelcome memories of that campaign as Northern Ireland hogged the ball and kept their opponents on the back foot, only to go unrewarded.

NI hope to make it six points from six when they face Belarus on Sunday, but O'Neill was clear from the outset that was the minimum requirement if they are to make headway in this campaign. Credit: Pacemaker
  • REACTION

Manager Michael O'Neill admitted Northern Ireland did not play well in the second half, but was happy to be talking about a victory again after last year's frustrations in the Nations League.

"It was the nature of the game, we knew if you can score early in this game it certainly eases the tension and it changes a little bit the opponent's attitude so it was disappointing with the chances we had that we didn't take them," he said.

"The longer the game was at 0-0 the greater their belief they can cling on and obviously come away with a result.

"From that aspect I was pleased that in the second half we kept at it, we didn't change how we played, we kept trying to move the ball the right way and the performance was better in the second half so it was a pleasing win."

Estonia's Sergei Lepmets beat by Northern Ireland Steven Davis pen During tonight's game at Windsor Park. Credit: Desmond Loughery/Pacemaker
  • MATCH RECAP

The first clear sight of goal arrived inside two minutes when the ball fell for McGinn at the far post, but he cut across his shot to drag it wide.

Estonia's towering defenders Joonas Tamm and Madis Vihmann repelled a series of dangerous crosses, the bulk of them from the right where McGinn and Stuart Dallas made a nuisance of themselves.

The best chance fell to Paddy McNair, who buried his face in his hands after somehow heading Jordan Jones' looping cross down and over the bar from point-blank range in the 19th minute.

There was another fine chance with six minutes left in the half when Dallas' long throw was flicked on for Jones to strike on the turn, but his shot went just the wrong side of the post to keep it goalless at the break.

There were few signs of things changing in the opening 10 minutes of the second half as the hosts huffed and puffed without doing much to threaten Lepmets' goal.

But that changed in the 56th minute when Lafferty showed good strength to lay the ball off for McGinn to rifle home, to the audible relief of Windsor Park.

Northern Ireland's Niall Mc Ginn scores the first goal in the 56th minute. Credit: Pacemaker

McNair went close again in the 64th minute, beating Lepmets to Lewis' cross, but he could not keep his header down.

But if McGinn's goal had eased some nerves among the fans there were two warning signs for Northern Ireland.

First a corner was flicked on to Mattias Kait at the far post but the Fulham man could not keep his shot down.

Then the flag stayed down as Henri Anier ran through at goal, but Bailey Peacock-Farrell was quickly off his line to charge down the shot.

Moments later, though, Northern Ireland had the points wrapped up. Estonia captain Karol Mets went in high on George Saville, and after the referee pointed to the spot, captain Davis sent his penalty straight down the middle.

Davis fired home from the penalty spot in the 75th minute, securing the win for Michael O'Neill's side. Credit: Pacemaker

There were late chances for Saville and substitute Josh Magennis to add a flourish, but Northern Ireland had already done enough to give them confidence they can make it six points out of six in Sunday's clash against Belarus.