Northern Ireland industry was not rewarded with a World Cup qualification win against Switzerland but a draw against a side some 37 places above them in the world rankings was another positive result for manager Ian Baraclough to build on.
After Wednesday’s goalless draw, Sky Sports News’ Paul Gilmour offers his take on events at Windsor Park…
Emotional night at full Windsor Park
Northern Ireland welcomed back almost 16,000 supporters on an emotional night at Windsor Park. Many of the fans, players and staff will have suffered tough times during the pandemic and the way they belted out ‘Sweet Caroline’ and cheered every positive aspect of the play really inspired the young players.
There were also anti-IFA songs as they made clear their displeasure at ticket prices for the game. They did show it’s possible to create a thunderous atmosphere while still respecting the opposition as all sides of Windsor Park loudly applauded the Swiss anthem.
Conor Bradley full of confidence
The 18-year-old Liverpool defender followed in the footsteps of Jonny Evans by making his competitive debut as a teenager despite having no experience of a senior club game.
There was no shortage of confidence and Bradley got one of the biggest cheers of the night with a crunching tackle high up the pitch on Ricardo Rodriguez, showing a maturity beyond his years.
Swiss officiating links
It did not go unnoticed at the stadium that the Austrian match referee Harald Lechner has taken charge of games in the Swiss Super League in the past. His inconsistent and stop-start style of officiating was a constant source of frustration.
He even yellow carded Northern Ireland players for time-wasting, despite the home side needing three points to boost their World Cup qualifying hopes.
Peacock-Farrell’s penalty heroics
On-loan Sheffield Wednesday goalkeeper Bailey Peacock-Farrell has now saved penalties in consecutive games for Northern Ireland, taking his penalty save count to four for the season with club and country.
He looks like he’s benefiting from the regular game time in League One and the home supporters throughout his name.
It’s fair to say the pace of Blackpool striker Shayne Lavery took Switzerland players by surprise.
Lavery, back on familiar ground after playing under David Healy at Linfield, was also singled out by the Swiss newspaper Blick. They printed that he made Nico Elvedi ‘look like a S-Bahn next to a TGV.’
Group C had opened up when Switzerland held Italy to a 0-0 draw, but the latest matchday saw the Azzurri stretch their lead at the summit to six points as they thrashed rock-bottom Lithuania 5-0.
The Swiss were thwarted in a stalemate with Northern Ireland, a result that leaves Baraclough’s side three points behind Switzerland in Group C, but with the same opposition up next they still retain a chance to go second.
October 9: Lithuania vs Bulgaria – kick-off 2pm
October 9: Switzerland vs Northern Ireland – kick-off 7.45pm
Baraclough: Nothing to fear in Switzerland
Ian Baraclough told his young Northern Ireland players to be “very, very proud” of their display against Switzerland which leaves them with nothing to fear heading to Geneva for their crunch World Cup Qualifier in October.
“We had to be patient, compact, resolve and organized, and we had that in abundance,” Baraclough said.
“We tried to control the ball when we had it and be positive. Sometimes we lacked that killer ball, but we still looked dangerous and I was energized by what I saw in the performance, and the enthusiasm, and the crowd clearly played their part in that and I was very, very proud.
“You look at the players that were missing, take nothing away from the boys coming in, but Jonny, Corry, Paddy McNair, Josh, Stuart Dallas, they’re big, big players.
“So to put in a performance like that against a top nation, albeit missing players as well, it gives us nothing to fear next month when we go to Geneva in search of the points.”