Northern Ireland 0 Norway 3: Same old problems for new man O'Neill
Michael O'Neill's first match in charge of Northern Ireland ended in defeat as a deflected opener and two late goals gave Norway a comfortable victory at Windsor Park.
Things started brightly enough, with the hosts having the best of the first period only to go behind a minute before the break after Sammy Clingan diverted Havard Nordtveit's shot past Lee Camp.
Tarik Elyounoussi then doubled the winning margin with a neat shot on the turn and Espen Ruud's volley sealed it in added time.
Fortunate goal: Havard Nordtveit celebrates his goal with Marcus Henriksen
Northern Ireland: Camp, McAuley, Hughes, Jonathan Evans, McGivern, Corry Evans, Clingan, Davis, Ferguson, Shiels, Paterson.
Subs: Mannus, Hodson, McGinn, Healy, McCann, Duff, McQuoid, McCourt, Carson, McGovern.
Norway: Jarstein, Hogli, Rogne, Demidov, Riise, Henriksen, Nordtveit, Grindheim, Pedersen, Abdellaoui, Huseklepp.
Subs: Pettersen, Reginiussen, Elyounoussi, Ruud, Jenssen, Braaten, Berisha.
O'Neill's first teamsheet included
recalled duo Dean Shiels and Shane Ferguson, both absent from the
national set-up for the last two years of Nigel Worthington's tenure.
There was also a change at the back,
with Jonny Evans given the chance to establish himself in his preferred
centre-back position in place of Gareth McAuley, who was shifted to
David Healy started on the bench but
with 17 minutes left became his country's most capped outfield player –
cap number 92 taking him clear of Mal Donaghy.
Northern Ireland's first attack, in
the second minute, saw full-back Ryan McGivern break down the left and
fire a powerful effort at goal.
Goalkeeper Rune Jarstein reacted well
to tip it over the crossbar only for Shiels to produce a tame header
from the resulting corner.
Holding off: Northern Ireland Dean Shiels battles with Norway's Christian Grindham
Ferguson was next to try his luck down the left and his deflected cross just evaded Martin Paterson on the six-yard line.
The lively start found the fans in
noticeably better voice than they had been at the end of the Worthington
era, with O'Neill's arrival in the technical area warmly welcomed.
Clingan was using the ball well in
midfield, freeing Ferguson again as a quick Northern Ireland break again
stretched the visiting defence.
Norway were content to counter-attack in the opening 20 minutes, but too often left Mohammed Abdellaoue isolated up front.
New era, same result: Northern Ireland's Steven Davis vies with Norway's Morten Gamst Pedersen
Northern Ireland endured a nervy
moment after 25 minutes, a weak defensive header from Ferguson handing
Norway a clear opportunity on the right-hand side of the penalty area.
Luckily, it fell to full-back Tom Hogli, who blazed over.
Moments later Northern Ireland had the best chance so far.
Fight for the ball: Ryan McGivern vies with Norway's Valon Berisha for possession
Ferguson's cross was poorly dealt
with, leading to a frenetic couple of seconds that saw Steven Davis,
Paterson and McAuley all try to force the ball over the line from close
Davis was closest to success, with McAuley's sliced effort ending the danger.
There was a warning for the home side too when Erik Huseklepp worked Camp at the near post.
John Arne Riise twice looked primed for spectacular volleys but made negligible contact with both attempts.
Three and easy: Espen Ruud celebrates scoring Norway's third goal
Norway did take the lead a minute
before the break when Aaron Hughes half-cleared a corner as far as
Nordtveit, whose low shot beat Camp via the unfortunate Clingan.
O'Neill made two changes at the
interval, Grant McCann on for Corry Evans and Michael Duff ending a
four-year exile in place of Hughes.
McCann was quick to make an
impression, winning the ball in midfield, carrying it 10 yards and
forcing a fingertip save from 25 yards.
At the other end Camp fumbled Riise's near-post effort but was lucky to see Daniel Braaten botch the rebound.
Shoulder to shoulder: Grant McCann keeps the ball away from Norway's Ruben Yttergard Jenssen
Shiels was lively in his role linking midfield and attack and his cross on the hour allowed Davis a header at goal.
A clever through ball from McGivern
then found Shiels clear of his man inside the area but a crucial saving
tackle snuffed out the danger.
With a little over 20 minutes remaining, O'Neill turned to winger Paddy McCourt, who came on for the impressive Ferguson.
The Celtic man was watched from the
stands by club boss Neil Lennon, returning to the ground where he was
once barracked by his own fans on international duty.
International bow: Northern Ireland's manager Michael O'Neill and Norway's manager Egil Olsen shake hands
McCourt was quick to make an impact too, twice beating his man on the left and sending in testing crosses.
Healy, meanwhile, had been left
waiting long enough for his record-breaking appearance and he was next
off the bench to replace Paterson.
The Rangers striker was unable to mark the occasion with a goal but Norway had time for two more.
Elyounoussi extended the visitors' lead three minutes from time when he
beat Camp at the near post, before Ruud's superb stoppage-time volley
made it 3-0 despite the Nottingham Forest keeper getting a strong hand