Captain Steven Davis and striker Gavin Whyte came off the bench to score two late quickfire goals that gave Northern Ireland a satisfying 3-1 friendly win away to Luxembourg.
The pair found the target in the final seven minutes as manager Ian Baraclough’s experienced side made it three games unbeaten.
Josh Magennis had given NI an early lead with an excellent finish that was equalised after the break by Marvin Martins’ header from a corner.
Northern Ireland are back in action in Belfast on Tuesday night when they continue their Nations League preparations by hosting Hungary in a friendly.
Friday night’s friendly was a first outing for Northern Ireland since they ended their World Cup 2022 qualifying campaign with an impressive 0-0 draw with Italy at Windsor Park in November – a result that sent the European champions into the play-off that they lost against North Macedonia on Thursday.
Late surge adds gloss after second half became scrappy
It was a satisfying victory in the end for Baraclough’s men, who started the match strongly with Magennis and Shayne Lavery very lively up front.
The hosts came back into the game well, however, and the match had become scrappy by the time Martins levelled on 58 minutes with a backpost header from a corner that Craig Cathcart failed to head clear.
Whyte and Davis were two of four subs made on the hour-mark by Baraclough and both were involved in the 83rd-minute goal that restored the visitors’ lead.
In-form Oxford United forward Whyte showed invention in the box to turn and lay the ball off to fellow sub Niall McGinn, whose low cross broke to Davis and he prodded home from close range with the sole of his foot.
Whyte, traditionally a wide man who has played through the middle more and more for NI, found himself through on goal two minutes later and composed himself well to slide a clever low finish into the bottom corner.
Classy Magennis finish follows strong NI start
With a lot of the narrative in the build-up to the game surrounding a number of young new call-ups to the squad, Northern Ireland boss Baraclough went with a very experienced line-up skippered by Jonny Evans, who was a late addition to the squad this week.
It meant the likes of Trai Hume, Paddy Lane and Caolan Boyd-Munce will have to bide their time before making their senior international debuts, some of which may come against Hungary in Belfast on Tuesday.
Northern Ireland signalled their intent as early as the second minute when the ever-willing Shayne Lavery wasted little time in making an impact on his return to the fold by closing the ball down and winning possession.
The Blackpool striker got in behind the home defence and delivered a dangerous low cross that flashed across goal but was just too far ahead of his strike partner Magennis.
Lavery was again to the fore six minutes later when Joran Thompson found space in midfield superbly and fed the livewire forward with a fine pass that he took in his strike before delivering a low shot that went just wide of the post.
Once again set up in the 3-5-2 formation that has become manager Ian Baraclough’s blueprint, Northern Ireland remained on the front foot and went close again through a Corry Evans curler that was well saved by home goalkeeper Anthony Moris, who then reacted well to thwart Thompson on the follow-up.
Daniel Sinani made sure Northern Ireland stand-in goalkeeper Conor Hazard stayed alive when he curled wide a few minutes before Magennis got that opening goal in the 16th minute, latching onto a long ball and shrugging Maxime Chanot with great strength before finding the far bottom corner of the net with a delicious low left-foot curler.
The hosts responded well and played their way into the match, looking threatening a few times on the attack, though it was Lavery again who had the final say of the first half when he fired over the crossbar just before the break.
- 2ChanotBooked at 20mins
- 13CarlsonSubstituted forMahmutovicat 45′minutes
- 17PintoSubstituted forOlesenat 74′minutes
- 22Martins da Graça
- 8Martins Pereira
- 16Barreiro MartinsBooked at 41minsSubstituted forThillat 84′minutes
- 9SinaniSubstituted forDevilleat 88′minutes
- 15ThillSubstituted forThillat 70′minutes
- 10RodriguesSubstituted forBorges Sanchesat 84′minutes
- 6Borges Sanches
- 20Zambujo Pimentel
- 1HazardSubstituted forSouthwoodat 45′minutes
- 5EvansSubstituted forBrownat 63′minutes
- 14DallasSubstituted forMcGinnat 79′minutes
- 15ThompsonSubstituted forDavisat 63′minutes
- 21MagennisSubstituted forCharlesat 63′minutesBooked at 80mins
- 9LaverySubstituted forWhyteat 63′minutes
Match ends, Luxembourg 1, Northern Ireland 3.
Second Half ends, Luxembourg 1, Northern Ireland 3.
Vincent Thill (Luxembourg) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Shane Ferguson (Northern Ireland).
Laurent Jans (Luxembourg) wins a free kick on the left wing.
Foul by Dion Charles (Northern Ireland).
Attempt saved. Niall McGinn (Northern Ireland) right footed shot from outside the box is saved in the centre of the goal. Assisted by Tom Flanagan.
Attempt missed. George Saville (Northern Ireland) header from the centre of the box misses to the right. Assisted by Niall McGinn with a cross.
Foul by Christopher Martins Pereira (Luxembourg).
Dion Charles (Northern Ireland) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Substitution, Luxembourg. Maurice Deville replaces Danel Sinani.
Offside, Luxembourg. Sébastien Thill tries a through ball, but Danel Sinani is caught offside.
Goal! Luxembourg 1, Northern Ireland 3. Gavin Whyte (Northern Ireland) right footed shot from the centre of the box to the bottom left corner.
Substitution, Luxembourg. Sébastien Thill replaces Leandro Barreiro Martins.
Substitution, Luxembourg. Yvandro Borges Sanches replaces Gerson Rodrigues.
Goal! Luxembourg 1, Northern Ireland 2. Steven Davis (Northern Ireland) right footed shot from very close range to the bottom left corner. Assisted by Dion Charles.
Dion Charles (Northern Ireland) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.
Enes Mahmutovic (Luxembourg) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Dion Charles (Northern Ireland).
Laurent Jans (Luxembourg) wins a free kick in the defensive half.