Gavin Whyte’s late header earned 10-man Northern Ireland an unlikely 1-1 draw and their first ever Nations League point against Romania in Bucharest, but Ian Baraclough owed a huge debt to his goalkeeper Bailey Peacock-Farrell.
The Green and White Army were frustrated for much of the night, falling behind when George Puscas poked Romania in front after 25 minutes, and then losing Josh Magennis to two soft yellow cards before half-time.
Peacock-Farrell made a string of top-class saves to keep his side in the game in the second half before substitutes Kyle Lafferty and Whyte combined to snatch an equaliser four minutes from time. There was still time for Peacock-Farrell to make another fine save, pushing Denis Alibec’s shot on to the crossbar.
The second half will offer huge encouragement to Baraclough – appointed to replace Michael O’Neill in April but only now getting his first game in charge. And much of it was down to another man who has endured a long wait for action, Peacock-Farrell showing why Burnley have handed him a new contract if not yet a debut as he starred on his first competitive outing since Northern Ireland’s last match in November.
Asked what impressed him about his side, Baraclough said: “I think the patience in the second half, definitely. We talked about when to spring out, when to shuffle across, when to deny them space. They were always going to go for a second and not settle and that would give you a chance.”
On Magennis’s red card, he said: “I just had a quick look and those are challenges that happen all over the pitch. Their guys have gone down easy and squealed, but they’ve both gone up with their arms up. There’s no blame on Josh there, it’s just the referee’s interpretation, it’s a tough one but we just have to live with it.”
Peacock-Farrell said: “It was a difficult one, our backs were against the wall from fairly early on. We’re a man down, Jonny [Evans] is not here for personal reasons, but the character of the lads was spot on to grind it out.
“At half-time we just said, ‘Look lads, we’re still in it, it’s only one goal and the longer we stay in it the more frustrated they’ll get, and the more they take chances the more likelihood is we’ll nick one’. We stayed positive and it worked out for us.”
Steven Bergwijn scored just past the hour mark to secure Netherlands a hard-fought 1-0 win over Poland in their opening Nations League clash on Friday in Amsterdam.
The Dutch, runners-up in last year’s inaugural edition of the competition, were playing their first game since the departure of coach Ronald Koeman to Barcelona last month but kept up their crisp performances of the last two years.
Bergwijn tapped the ball home in the 61st minute after a characteristic sweeping move from the Netherlands, playing under interim coach Dwight Lodeweges. Frenkie de Jong’s sweeping ball and Hans Hateboer’s assist gave Tottenham’s Bergwijn the simple task of finishing from close range to score his first international goal.
Bosnia-Herzegovina ended Italy’s run of 11 successive wins when they held Roberto Mancini’s side to a 1-1 draw in Florence. After both teams hit the woodwork early in the second half, Edin Dzeko put the visitors in front when he fired into the roof of the net with a shot on the turn from a corner in the 57th minute.
Stefano Sensi equalised 10 minutes later with a deflected shot after Lorenzo Insigne pulled the ball back.
Italy, playing their first match since beating Armenia 9-1 last November, won all 10 of their qualifying matches for Euro 2020 as well as a friendly against the United States for the longest winning run in their history.
The Czech Republic claimed a 3-1 away win over neighbouring Slovakia after finally breaking down their opponents with three second-half goals.
Vladimir Coufal gave the Czechs the lead just after the break when Slovak goalkeeper Dominik Greif parried Jakub Jankto’s cross for the Slavia Prague player to slot home.
Borek Dockal notched the second in the 53rd minute when he beat the keeper from the penalty spot after Norbert Gyomber brought down Lukas Masopust in the area. Michael Krmencik rounded off the Czech scoring in the 86th, before Ivan Schranz netted for the Slovaks two minutes later.