Kyle Lafferty and Niall McGinn were the late heroes as Northern Ireland marked the ninth anniversary of their famous victory over England by grabbing a dramatic 2-1 win in their Euro 2016 opener in Hungary.Hungary Vs Northern Ireland highlights.
Hungary had looked set to take the points on their first outing at the new Groupama Arena when former Watford striker Tamas Priskin headed home a 74th-minute corner.
But Michael O’Neill’s men ripped up the script as Lafferty’s brilliant run and pass left McGinn with the simplest of tap-ins with 10 minutes to go.
The pair then swapped roles with three minutes left, McGinn ghosting into the box and crossing for Lafferty, who willed the ball over the line as he tangled with Vilmos Vanczak and somehow got the job done from the most ungainly position.
O’Neill sprang a tactical surprise by ditching his favoured 3-5-2 for something that threatened to be 4-3-3 but quickly reverted to a more defensive 4-5-1.
The biggest gambles appeared to be at full-back, with Chris Brunt asked to fill in out-of-position on the left of defence and Conor McLaughlin handed a first competitive start on the right.
There were chances at either end inside five minutes, but the finishing on each occasion suggested a goal-fest was never likely.
Lafferty created the first opportunity, battling to win Chris Baird’s cross and turning the ball deftly for the onrushing Jamie Ward.
The Derby man had time to line up his shot but did not appear to realise it, snatching at the effort and sending it tamely towards Peter Gulacsi.
There was more craft in Balazs Dzsudzsak’s attempt at the other end, opening his body to spray a first-time shot towards the far post, but it squirmed wide.
Hungary took their time to settle in their new surroundings but gradually began to dictate terms, Dzsudzsak key to everything good and Adam Gyurcso giving Brunt a headache on the right wing.
The home side were assisted by referee Deniz Aytekin, who pulled Northern Ireland up for a number of barely-there fouls.
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For the visitors, Ward’s terrier-like willingness to scrap for the ball looked the likeliest route.
He pick-pocketed Zoltan Liptak inside the area only to be challenged before getting his shot away and then made what should have been his crucial intervention.
He charged down an apparent lost cause on the halfway but got a kind deflection that put him in behind the home defence before sprinting for goal.
When his shot was pushed out towards the middle of the box, Corry Evans should have buried it.
Instead it came a little quicker than expected and sailed high over the crossbar off the midfielder’s instep.
Evans had been the scorer when Northern Ireland last won away from home, 1-0 in Slovenia four years ago, but there was to be no repeat for him.
There was a solitary change at the break as Priskin, once of Watford, came on up front for Hungary, soon to be joined by Gergo Lovrencsics.
It was the latter who drew the first meaningful save of the game from Roy Carroll.
That came with 62 minutes on the clock, Lovrencsics letting fly from the edge of the box and Carroll diving to his left to touch round the post.
O’Neill went to bench by necessity, Ward and Gareth McAuley both taking knocks before being replaced by McGinn and Craig Cathcart.
McAuley’s presence was surely missed as Hungary took the lead from a 74th-minute corner, Priskin getting the critical touch in a packed six-yard box.
Dzsudzsak whipped in a wonderful set-piece but McAuley has made a career of making that area his own.
They might easily have buckled but instead they mustered a grandstand finale.
Huge credit goes to Lafferty for the leveller, coming deep for the ball before navigating a roundabout way past the Hungary backline.
When he opened his legs he quickly found a route into the penalty box, skipping one final challenge before measuring a pass across goal for McGinn to tap home unmarked.
A point would have been a decent return on their day’s work but McGinn had other ideas, collecting Evans’ clever pass and looking for Lafferty at the back post.
The finish was hardly elegant but for Northern Ireland it could not have been sweeter.Follow @Football7x24