Northern Ireland are still searching for their first win in the Nations League as Austria ran out 1-0 winners at Windsor Park.
A quiet encounter in front of 600 Northern Irish fans ended 1-0 to the Austrians with a first half header from Michael Gregoritsch. A late chance from Liam Boyce could not prevent Ian Baraclough’s men from their second Nations league loss.
This result means Northern Ireland remain bottom of the group whilst Austria move up to second before Barclough’s men meet Norway later this week.
Austria almost took the lead before the ten-minute mark. Left back David Alaba played a reverse pass but make-shift striker Michael Gregoritsch’s outstretched leg could not make contact. Alaba would again cause Northern Ireland problems down the left-hand side on 15 minutes. His deep cross found his fellow full-back Stefan Lainer but the shot didn’t trouble Michael McGovern.
Austria continued their early pressure and forced Michael McGovern into the first save of the game. A curling free kick from David Alaba found the head of Martin Hinteregger in acres of space. His header was straight at the goalkeeper and didn’t trouble McGovern. The best chance of the opening stages fell to young Christoph Baumgartner. Craig Cathcart’s weak back pass found the feet of the youngster, who curled his effort just past the post.
Baumgartner could have opened the scoring again on 35 minutes when Gregoritsch’s squared header found the feet of the young winger. His effort flew over the bar from the six-yard line to keep the game level. Austria’s constant pressure payed off after 42 minutes when Gregoritsch opened the scoring. A cross from the left by Hinteregger found the striker who headed the ball into the bottom left corner to make it 1-0 entering half-time.
Northern Ireland reacted well in the opening stages of the second half. Early pressure made half chances for both Kyle Lafferty and Jonny Evans. Austria could only muster long range efforts in the opening ten minutes of the second half. A dipping free kick from Alaba stung the gloves of McGovern and Stefan Ilsanker’s shot blazed over from around 35 yards.
On the hour mark Northern Ireland tried to change the game with an attacking substitution. Conor Washington entered the field to replace Kyle Lafferty who did not have a sight of goal. Washington was immediately involved when his flailing arm gave Austrian centre back Aleksander Dragovic a black eye.
Northern Ireland fashioned their first clear opportunity to level just before 70 minutes. An in-swinging cross from Stuart Dallas connected with Jonny Evans but his header was easily saved. Baraclough then made further changes to his Northern Ireland side bringing on Corry Evans and Jordan Thompson to try and change the game.
Northern Ireland’s improved second half performance forced defensive changes from Austrian manager Franco Foda. First Reinhold Rantfl was replaced by Union Berlin defender Christopher Trimmel. Then first half goal scorer Gregoritsch was substituted for Adrian Grbic. Opposingly, attackers Josh Magennis and Liam Boyce were brought on wafter 80 minutes with Ian Baraclough’s men chasing the game.
A Jordan Thompson yellow card for a cynical tackle from behind was the catalyst for a feisty final five minutes at Windsor Park. The late urgency from Northern Ireland forced many needless fouls. This was countered by Austria’s satisfaction to slow the play down and pass the ball round the back. Northern Ireland were left extremely frustrated when the fourth official added four minutes on.
Northern Ireland had an opportunity to level with two minutes left in the game. Xavier Schlager was given a yellow for a grab on Jordan Thompson. His quick thinking from the free kick found Liam Boyce who lashed across goal before it went agonisingly wide, in what would be Northern Ireland’s final chance.