Cech's super save salvages a point and denies Northern Ireland a great win

Petr Cech shrugged aside an attack of jitters to deny Northern Ireland with a brilliant second-half save at Windsor Park last night.

The Czech Republic keeper appeared unnerved by a storm-force wind in the first half but redeemed himself just as Warren Feeney threatened to fire Northern Ireland into a 51st minute lead.

Reacting quickly, Cech dashed from his line and spread himself in front of Feeney to block the striker's close-range shot. Luck was on his side, though, as the ball ran loose to Chris Brunt, who blazed over an empty net.

Petr Cech

Czech point: Petr Cech saves to help win a point for the Czech Republic

Nigel Worthington wanted wet and windy weather to disrupt the Czech Republic’s passing game and could not have wished for better. Even so, the Czechs carved out two chances inside the opening 10 minutes.

The wind almost worked against the hosts after six minutes when Marek Jankulovski’s 35-yard free-kick suddenly gathered pace in the air and forced Maik Taylor to tip over at full stretch, then Radoslav Kovac headed over from close range after Radek Sirl’s corner.

Cech had an uncomfortable moment of his own in the 18th minute, colliding with a post and conceding a corner after struggling to reach a back header from David Rozenhal that was affected by the conditions.

Despite being without influential midfielder Steve Davis, who withdrew and returned home for family reasons, Northern Ireland belatedly gained a foothold. David Healy optimistically attempted to chip Cech from long range in the 25th minute without success.

Libor Sionko forced a diving save from Taylor soon after, but the Czechs’ efforts were generally doing little more than underline the emergence of Jonny Evans as the hosts’ most accomplished defender. But they rode their luck in the 45th-minute, though, when Baros headed wide after being set up by Zdenek Grygera.

Midfielder Sammy Clingan came off injured at half-time and was replaced by Crewe’s Michael O’Connor.

And it was O’Connor’s header which fell perfectly for Feeney, who looked sure to score, until Cech darted from his line to block the shot. Brunt was on to the loose ball in a flash but blazed over a gaping net with his weaker right foot.

NORTHERN IRELAND (4-4-2): Taylor 6; Hughes 6, Craigan 6, Evans 8, McCartney 7; Gillespie 7 (Shiels 84), Baird 7, Clingan 7 (O’Connor 46, 6), Brunt 7; Feeney 5 (Paterson 72, 6), Healy 6.

CZECH REPUBLIC (4-5-1): Cech 6; Grygera 7, Ujfalusi 7, Rozehnal 7, Jankulovski 6; Sionko 6 (Popesch 67, 6), Kovac 6, Polak 7, Plasil 6, Sirl 7; Baros 5 (Slepipka 78).
Booked: Kovac.

Man of the match: Jonny Evans.

Referee: Ivan Bebek (Croatia)

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