Ollie’s free-kick helps Ulstermen to win over UkraineIt was a pinpoint free-kick from Ollie Norwood which helped Northern Ireland to a 2-0 win against Ukraine – their first ever victory at the European Championships!
The Ulstermen lost their first game in 13 when they faced Poland in their Group C opener – but they have well and truly kept their hopes of qualifying for the last 16 from one of the toughest pools, as Gareth McAuley headed in a trademark set-piece from the Royals midfielder.
It was four minutes after the interval that Norwood placed the ball down on the left channel, sent over a peach of a delivery for the West Brom defender, and he arrived first at the back stick to head past Andriy Pyatov and give the Ulstermen the lead.
And after withstanding plenty of pressure in the second half from a Ukraine side desperate to get something from the game, Niall McGinn added a second in the sixth minute of added time so send the green section of the Stade des Lumières into raptures.
Norwood had been caught on the ball by Serhiy Sydorchuk earlier in the game, but the Ukrainian forward had his shot blocked by defender McAuley as he sprinted towards goal. But for the most part, the Ulstermen had the lion’s share of the first period and could have been ahead at the interval through either Craig Cathcart or Jamie Ward, who both went close.
But Norwood’s delivery for McAuley was delightful, allowing the Baggies centre-half to peel off and complete the simple task of hitting the target to open the scoring.
And the Royals midfielder could have doubled the lead merely five minutes later, but his half-volleyed effort from the edge of the area deflected into the goalkeeper's arms.
Their momentum was killed by a stoppage in play – hailstones the size of golf balls were falling in Lyon, causing the ref to delay the game temporarily just before the hour-mark.
And Ukraine plugged away in search of an equaliser for the final half-hour – it never came, and it was challenges like Norwood’s lunging block to deny Yevheniy Konoplyanka from the edge of the area which typified the work ethic that the result was built on.
In the final of the six minutes which the four official held up on his board, Josh Magennis showed more ambition than one might have expected when he had the ball in the corner – he drilled a low cross towards Stuart Dallas, whose shot was palmed away, but only as far as McGinn who tucked in a game-sealer with seconds remaining!
Congratulations to Ollie and Northern Ireland on another historic day for their country… and very best of luck for their final Group C outing against Germany!