Northern Ireland suffered yet another defeat in their World Cup qualifying group as they went down 2-0 to Israel at Windsor Park.
The hosts were unlucky to not be ahead in the first half after Steven Davis saw his shot blocked brilliantly by Dudu Aouate, and the Green and White Army enjoyed the better chances of a goalless opening period.
However, their good work was undone in the second half as goals from Lior Rafaelov and Eden Ben Basat secured a priceless victory for the visitors.
Michael O’Neill came into this game without a win as manager of Northern Ireland and made just one change, with the suspended Kyle Lafferty replaced by Martin Paterson up front.
Meanwhile, the Israelis also had a striker ruled out by a ban, with Tomer Hemed forced to sit out having scored seven goals in his previous seven internationals.
The game began in bitterly cold conditions at Windsor Park and it was the away side who settled quickest, with Itay Schechter hitting the post with an early header at the near post.
However, after that moment of magic the game stalled somewhat as both teams were guilty of giving the ball away too easily and were unable to forge any clear chances for themselves.
It took until the 19th minute for either side to create another opening, as Davis’ delightful pass nearly found Paterson in the box but for a timely intervention by Tal Ben Haim.
The home side were beginning to enjoy a good amount of possession as Israel tried to soak up their pressure, with Chris Brunt’s set pieces creating some problems for the visitors.
The hosts came close to opening the scoring in the 30th minute, as Paterson seized upon a defensive error to play a square ball to Davis but his shot was saved brilliantly by Aouate, with the follow-ups from Brunt and Aaron Hughes also blocked.
However, despite enjoying more of the ball, Northern Ireland could not make their advantage count and went into half-time with the scores goalless.
The visitors started the second half in a more attacking vein and forced Roy Carroll to make a reaction save in the 53rd minute from a fierce Maor Melikson shot.
Northern Ireland then had another superb chance just five minutes later as Davis received the ball from just outside the penalty area and cannoned a shot off the crossbar.
The hosts continued to have the majority of the possession but found themselves unable to create a clear chance as the Israeli defence held out well in the face of intense pressure.
However, somewhat against the run of play it was the away side who took the lead as a slick passing move caught Northern Ireland’s defence napping and Rafaelov was able to slot home.
The home side tried their best to find a late equaliser but conceded again after Ben Basat’s superb finish and slumped to yet another disappointing defeat in their World Cup qualifying group.
|Coach: M. O'Neill|
for S. Ferguson 73'
for S. Clingan 79'
for M. Paterson 83'
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