Most Read Football

=?UTF-8?Q?Burnley=E2=80=99s_Ashley_Barnes_celebrates?=1

Chelsea misfire in top-four battle

Maurizio Sarri was sent to the stands as Chelsea blew a big chance to stake their Champions League claim by slipping to a 2-2 Premier League draw with Burnley.

Check out today's Paper Talk2

Paper Talk: Lukaku leaving?

Juventus are eyeing Manchester United striker Romelu Lukaku with Manchester United happy to listen to offers - get all the latest from today's back pages.

Sporting Life's Premier League preview package3

Premier League betting preview

Tuesday sees two games in the Premier League as Tottenham welcome Brighton and Watford take on Southampton. We have two best bets.

Get all the latest football gossip from the day's back pages4

Paper Talk: Wilfried wanted

The likes of PSG are interested in signing Wilfried Zaha from Crystal Palace this summer while Nabil Fekir's dream move to Liverpool could be back on.

Get all the latest football gossip from the day's back pages5

Paper Talk: Keane Arsenal & Spurs

Tuesday's Paper Talk has the latest football transfer news and gossip, including Everton's Michael Keane's potential move.

Northern Ireland 2-0 Estonia: Hosts begin Euro 2020 qualifying with win

Northern Ireland's Niall McGinn celebrates scoring
Northern Ireland's Niall McGinn celebrates scoring

Northern Ireland delivered the victory manager Michael O'Neill had called essential as they saw off Estonia 2-0 in their opening Euro 2020 qualifier at Windsor Park.

After a tough draw paired them with Holland and Germany in Group C, Northern Ireland made sure the most winnable fixture of all led to three points as Niall McGinn and Steven Davis struck in the second half, the latter from the penalty spot.

It was a first competitive win since September 2017, putting to bed the frustration of last year's Nations League in which they failed to muster a point.

The first half had brought unwelcome memories of that campaign as Northern Ireland hogged the ball and kept their opponents on the back foot, only to go unrewarded.

The first clear sight of goal arrived inside two minutes when the ball fell for McGinn at the far post, but he cut across his shot to drag it wide.

Estonia's towering defenders Joonas Tamm and Madis Vihmann repelled a series of dangerous crosses, the bulk of them from the right where McGinn and Stuart Dallas made a nuisance of themselves, but Kyle Lafferty - making his first start since September - struggled to impact play in the middle.

The best chance fell to Paddy McNair, who buried his face in his hands after somehow heading Jordan Jones' looping cross down and over the bar from point-blank range in the 19th minute.

Craig Cathcart was the next to go close, getting his head to another Jones cross - this time from the right - but the Watford defender could not generate the power needed to beat Sergei Lepmets in the Estonia goal.

There was another fine chance with six minutes left in the half when Dallas' long throw was flicked on for Jones to strike on the turn, but his shot went just the wrong side of the post to keep it goalless at the break.

There were few signs of things changing in the opening 10 minutes of the second half as the hosts huffed and puffed without doing much to threaten Lepmets' goal.

But that changed in the 56th minute when Lafferty showed good strength to lay the ball off for McGinn to rifle home, to the audible relief of Windsor Park.

Northern Ireland fans celebrate
Northern Ireland fans in full voice

McNair went close again in the 64th minute, beating Lepmets to Lewis' cross, but he could not keep his header down.

But if McGinn's goal had eased some nerves among the fans there were two warning signs for Northern Ireland.

First a corner was flicked on to Mattias Kait at the far post but the Fulham man could not keep his shot down.

Then the flag stayed down as Henri Anier ran through at goal, but Bailey Peacock-Farrell was quickly off his line to charge down the shot.

Moments later, though, Northern Ireland had the points wrapped up. Estonia captain Karol Mets went in high on George Saville, and after the referee pointed to the spot, captain Davis sent his penalty straight down the middle.

There were late chances for Saville and substitute Josh Magennis to add a flourish, but Northern Ireland had already done enough to give them confidence they can make it six points out of six in Sunday's clash against Belarus.

Opta facts

  • Northern Ireland picked up their first win in nine competitive matches (D1 L7) since beating Czech Republic in September 2017.
  • Northern Ireland have now won their opening match in each of the last three European Championship qualifying campaigns.
  • Estonia have never kept a clean sheet against Northern Ireland in five previous meetings, failing to score themselves in three of those games. However, this was the first match they’d conceded more than once against Northern Ireland.
  • Niall McGinn’s goal was his first in 13 appearances for Northern Ireland in all competitions, since scoring against Ukraine in EURO 2016.
  • 10 of Steven Davis’ 12 goals for Northern Ireland have been scored in home games.
Like what you've read?
Help your friends Know It All by sharing this article to your social media.

Most Read Football

=?UTF-8?Q?Burnley=E2=80=99s_Ashley_Barnes_celebrates?=1

Chelsea misfire in top-four battle

Maurizio Sarri was sent to the stands as Chelsea blew a big chance to stake their Champions League claim by slipping to a 2-2 Premier League draw with Burnley.

Check out today's Paper Talk2

Paper Talk: Lukaku leaving?

Juventus are eyeing Manchester United striker Romelu Lukaku with Manchester United happy to listen to offers - get all the latest from today's back pages.

Sporting Life's Premier League preview package3

Premier League betting preview

Tuesday sees two games in the Premier League as Tottenham welcome Brighton and Watford take on Southampton. We have two best bets.

Get all the latest football gossip from the day's back pages4

Paper Talk: Wilfried wanted

The likes of PSG are interested in signing Wilfried Zaha from Crystal Palace this summer while Nabil Fekir's dream move to Liverpool could be back on.

Get all the latest football gossip from the day's back pages5

Paper Talk: Keane Arsenal & Spurs

Tuesday's Paper Talk has the latest football transfer news and gossip, including Everton's Michael Keane's potential move.

Football Tips

Sporting Life's Premier League preview package

Premier League betting preview

Tuesday sees two games in the Premier League as Tottenham welcome Brighton and Watford take on Southampton. We have two best bets.

A view of Uttoxeter racecourse

Our best bets

Check out Sporting Life's best bets across racing, football and more.

Three Musketeers begins his winning run at Aintree

Sporting Life Tipping Record

A look at how the Sporting Life recommended bets have performed in April 2019.