Northern Ireland 3-0 Belarus: Kyle Lafferty, Conor Washington and Will Grigg fire Michael O'Neill's men to rousing Windsor Park send-off as Euro 2016 underdogs extend unbeaten run to 11 games

  • Kyle Lafferty put Northern Ireland ahead after six minutes with right-footed shot from close range at Windsor Park
  • Conor Washington's header from left side of the six yard box to the bottom right corner made it 2-0 after 44 minutes
  • Belarus improved after the interval but Will Grigg and Chris Baird may have added to Northern Ireland's advantage
  • Grigg added a third to put gloss on the scoreline with a shot inside the box to cap a fine evening's work
  • Michael O'Neill will cut five names from his 28-man squad on Saturday ahead of the final friendly against Slovakia

Will Grigg wasn’t the only one on fire as Northern Ireland enjoyed their biggest win for five years and celebrated their Euro 2016 send-off with a pyrotechnics display at Windsor Park.

Supporters didn’t need an excuse to do another rendition of the popular chant dedicated to the Wigan striker, but Grigg provided one anyway when he claimed his first international goal in the 87th minute.

Kyle Lafferty marked his 50 international cap with a goal and QPR striker Conor Washington was also on target as Northern Ireland extended their unbeaten run to 11 games. 

Kyle Lafferty gets in front of Belarus goalkeeper Andrey Gorbunov to hand Northern Ireland the lead from close range on Friday night

Kyle Lafferty gets in front of Belarus goalkeeper Andrey Gorbunov to hand Northern Ireland the lead from close range on Friday night

Lafferty opened the scoring with an instinctive finish in Belfast to celebrate his 50th international cap in style ahead of Euro 2016

Lafferty opened the scoring with an instinctive finish in Belfast to celebrate his 50th international cap in style ahead of Euro 2016

Lafferty has often reserved his best performances for international level and the Norwich striker will hope for that to continue this summer 

Lafferty has often reserved his best performances for international level and the Norwich striker will hope for that to continue this summer 

The Northern Ireland supporters salute the striker after he gave the hosts the lead inside seven minutes at Windsor Park on Friday night

The Northern Ireland supporters salute the striker after he gave the hosts the lead inside seven minutes at Windsor Park on Friday night

Washington gets in front of Belarus goalkeeper Gorbunov to double Northern Ireland's advantage against the European minnows

Washington gets in front of Belarus goalkeeper Gorbunov to double Northern Ireland's advantage against the European minnows

Queens Park Rangers striker Washington made it two goals in three international games and he will be confident of making it on the plane

Queens Park Rangers striker Washington made it two goals in three international games and he will be confident of making it on the plane

Will Grigg is mobbed by his team-mates after adding a third goal with two minutes of normal time remaining during an impressive cameo

Will Grigg is mobbed by his team-mates after adding a third goal with two minutes of normal time remaining during an impressive cameo

Manager Michael O’Neill will name his final 23-man squad for France on Saturday lunchtime and then take his players on a training camp to Austria before a final warm-up game away to Slovakia next weekend.

O’Neill will hope they provide a sterner challenge than Belarus who could only do so much to prepare Northern Ireland for their Group C campaign against Germany, Poland and Ukraine.

‘I said to the players before the game that we had a responsibility to put on a performance because we’re normally the warm-up act for countries going to the finals,’ said O’Neill, who addressed supporters on the pitch at full-time before the fireworks started. 

‘It’s nice to be in the position we’re in and for the players to grasp the opportunity they had. I think they did that.’  

The game temporarily boiled over when both teams came to blows but referee Martin Atkinson managed to keep the players under control

The game temporarily boiled over when both teams came to blows but referee Martin Atkinson managed to keep the players under control

Windsor Park boasted a sell-out crowd against the Belarusians and Michael O'Neill will have been pleased with the team's performance

Windsor Park boasted a sell-out crowd against the Belarusians and Michael O'Neill will have been pleased with the team's performance

Belarus' Igor Shitov (left) and Northern Ireland's Stuart Dallas battle for the ball during the international friendly ahead of Euro 2016

Belarus' Igor Shitov (left) and Northern Ireland's Stuart Dallas battle for the ball during the international friendly ahead of Euro 2016

Northern Ireland's Conor Washington looks to shield the ball from Nikita Korzun as the home side took the game to their opponents

Northern Ireland's Conor Washington looks to shield the ball from Nikita Korzun as the home side took the game to their opponents

Belarus' Egor Filipenko attempts to escape the attentions of Washington as the visitors enjoyed a rare period of possession on Friday

Belarus' Egor Filipenko attempts to escape the attentions of Washington as the visitors enjoyed a rare period of possession on Friday

The Belarus defence failed to clear the ball twice before Lafferty punished them - CLICK HERE for more from our match zone service

The Belarus defence failed to clear the ball twice before Lafferty punished them - CLICK HERE for more from our match zone service

Michael O'Neill applauds his side after the opening goal and the Northern Ireland manager will have been encouraged by the display

Michael O'Neill applauds his side after the opening goal and the Northern Ireland manager will have been encouraged by the display

MATCH FACTS

Northern Ireland (4-3-2-1): Carroll (Mannus 46), Mclaughlin, Baird, Evans, Cathcart, Dallas (McGinn 73), McNair, Davis (Norwood 46), Evans (Hughes 73), Lafferty (Grigg 61), Washington (Ward 61)

Subs not used: Hodson, McCullough, Magennis, McAuley, McGovern, Ward

Goals: Lafferty 6, Washington 44, Grigg 88 

Booked: Evans

Belarus (4-2-3-1): Gorbunov, Shitov (Politevich 77), Martynovich, Filipenko (Shivakov 38), Volodko, Korzun, Kislyak, Gordeychuk, Krivets (Hleb 60), Stasevich, Yanush (Palyakow 71)

Subs not used: Chernik, Nekhajchik, Klimovich Booked: Kislyak, Shivakov, Kislyak

Referee: Martin Atkinson 

Lafferty, who scored seven goals in qualifying to help his country to their first major finals in 30 years, struck in the sixth minute when Mikita Korzun failed to clear Stuart Dallas’s cross and the Norwich striker pounced to stab the ball in from close-range. It was his 17th international goal in total on the night he reached a half century of caps. 

Washington added the second on the stroke of half-time, heading in after goalkeeper Andrei Harbunov made a mess of punching another Dallas cross. The QPR striker has now scored twice in three games since his first call-up in March.

And substitute Grigg rifled home in the dying minutes to complete a perfect night for Northern Ireland. They could have scored more had Maksim Valadzko not blocked Chris Baird’s volley at the back post and Egor Filipenko then got in the way of an equally fierce effort from Lafferty.

Belarus had plenty of possession but hardly threatened until striker Mikalai Yanush got on the end of Siarhei Kisliak’s cross in the 25th minute to send a header spinning just past the upright.

There was little else to worry veteran keeper Roy Carroll who made way for Alan Mannus at half-time as O’Neill made a number of changes throughout the second half – including sending on Australia-based veteran Aaron Hughes for his 99th cap.

He took off Lafferty on the hour moments after he had been spoken to by referee Martin Atkinson following an angry melee sparked by a Jonny Evans challenge, though later insisted that the substitution was planned. 

A red card for Lafferty was the last thing O’Neill needed, and he will also have been relieved to avoid any injuries on a night when Northern Ireland’s supporters turned out to give his team a rousing farewell.

There is no doubt they will be favourites to exit at the group stage in France, but the belief O’Neill has instilled in his players over the last two years has given them genuine confidence that they can progress.

Lafferty looks to shield the ball from Shitov during his hour-long performance before being replaced by Wigan striker Will Grigg

Lafferty looks to shield the ball from Shitov during his hour-long performance before being replaced by Wigan striker Will Grigg

Northern Ireland defender Jonny Evans heads at goal during the first half at Windsor Park as the hosts made a fine start to proceedings

Northern Ireland defender Jonny Evans heads at goal during the first half at Windsor Park as the hosts made a fine start to proceedings

Northern Ireland supporters are looking forward to their first appearance at a European Championship finals this summer in France

Northern Ireland supporters are looking forward to their first appearance at a European Championship finals this summer in France

Washington showed good bravery to get in front of the Belarus stopper to double the lead for Northern Ireland on the stroke of half time

Washington showed good bravery to get in front of the Belarus stopper to double the lead for Northern Ireland on the stroke of half time

Northern Ireland will hope for a stiffer test against Slovakia next week ahead of their Euro 2016 opener against Poland on June 12

Northern Ireland will hope for a stiffer test against Slovakia next week ahead of their Euro 2016 opener against Poland on June 12

Northern Ireland fans were in fine voice as they watched the side play at Windsor Park for the final time before the tournament this summer

Northern Ireland fans were in fine voice as they watched the side play at Windsor Park for the final time before the tournament this summer

Dallas manages to escape the challenge of Belarus' Nikolai Yanush as Northern Ireland managed to finish the game with a clean sheet

Dallas manages to escape the challenge of Belarus' Nikolai Yanush as Northern Ireland managed to finish the game with a clean sheet

 

 

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