Northern Ireland’s poor form in the UEFA Nations League continued with a 2-1 defeat to Austria. The result doesn’t reflect the excellent performance from a somewhat experienced team for 75 minutes, but two late Austrian goals turned the game around, and made for another negative night for Baraclough’s side.

With the play-off defeat taking its toll on the squad, changes were inevitable and they came. McGovern, Conor McLaughlin, Flanagan, Ballard, Ferguson, Smith, McCann and Boyce all came into the starting XI for the trip to Vienna.

We started brightly with Washington and Boyce linking up well. Boyce, in particular, went close with a low effort across goal after a counter attack. McGovern had very little to do in the first half.

The second half started much the same with Northern Ireland using the ball well, producing the odd chance and the Austrians not creating much at all. Just after the hour mark, Baraclough looked to his bench and replaced Boyce and Washington with Whyte and Magennis. The changes paid off as on 74 minutes, Magennis cooly slotted the ball home after McNair played him in – the Austrians were convinced that the Bangor man was offside so stopped waiting for a flag. Magennis remained professional and fired the ball into the bottom corner of the net, in doing so scoring his eighth international goal.

Northern Ireland just had to hold-on for 15 minutes to secure a very impressive win. Unfortunately, we were unable to do so. Schaub equalised after 81 minutes; the ball falling to him in the penalty area after a cross from the right wing resulted in a ricochet. The goalscorer appeared to be in an offside position but the assistant referee didn’t spot it and a goal was awarded.

Ex-Stoke City forward Arnautovic was now on the pitch and was making a difference. Cathcart had been sent on by Baraclough to sure up the defence and add a bit of experience to see out the closing stages. However he failed to track his runner after a free kick was taken quickly and instead tried to play Grbic offside. Arnautovic found him perfectly and Grbic placed the ball past McGovern just six minutes after the equaliser.

Austria saw out the remaining minutes with ease and that brought about Northern Ireland’s fourth defeat in five UEFA Nations League matches, meaning that we are still without a win in the competition. The loss also could confirm our relegation to League C with Romania’s game against Norway having been called off for Covid-19-related reasons and UEFA yet to make a decision on how points would be allocated for the fixture.

Despite the result, there were positives to take from the game. Ballard and Flanagan put in strong performances at the back – again evidencing that they were capable against proven goalscorers. McCann, on his debut, was excellent in the centre of the park. Boyce, who to his credit has travelled all over Europe in recent years without getting much game time, linked up very well with Washington, in particular in the first half.

We move onto our final fixture of the Nations League series against Romania on Wednesday, a game in which we will be hoping to finish the year off on some sort of a high.

FINAL SCORE

Austria 2 (Schaub 81, Grbic 87)
Northern Ireland 1 (Magennis 74)

AUSTRIA

Pervan, Lainer, Dragovic (Ranftl), Hinteregger, Ulmer (Grbic), Baumgartlinger (Schaub), Ilsanker, Schlager, Sabitzer, Alaba, Gregoritsch (Arnautovic)

Subs not used: Schlager, Trauner, Stankovic, Holzhauser, Zulj, Kalajdzic, Onisiwo, Wiesinger

NORTHERN IRELAND

McGovern, Ballard (Cathcart), C.McLaughlin, Flanagan, Dallas, McNair, Smith, McCann (Davis), Ferguson (Lewis), Washington (Magennis), Boyce (Whyte)

Subs not used: J.Evans, Galbraith, Peacock-Farrell, R.McLaughlin, Hazard