Northern Ireland held to 1-1 draw by Qatar in friendly at Crewe

Oliver Norwood congratulates goal-scorer Stuart Dallas
Oliver Norwood congratulates Northern Ireland goalscorer Stuart Dallas

Northern Ireland were held to a 1-1 draw by Qatar in their friendly international at Gresty Road in Crewe on Sunday.

Impressive Brentford winger Stuart Dallas fired in from Will Grigg's flick-on 52 seconds after half-time.

Substitute Karim Boudiaf levelled with a stunning strike in the 70th minute.

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill used the game as preparation for the vital Euro 2016 qualifier against Romania in Belfast on 13 June.

O'Neill took the opportunity to assess some of his less experienced players, having excused Steven Davis, Chris Brunt, Gareth McAuley, Chris Baird and Kyle Lafferty from the game.

The result means that Northern Ireland's embarrassing run in friendlies continued - they last won a non-competitive match against Georgia in 2008, while O'Neill is now without a triumph in 10 attempts.

That will be of little concern to the Northern Ireland boss, though, as his side are in a good position to qualify for a major finals for the first time since the 1986 World Cup in Mexico.

Dallas fired wide early on and the Brentford winger then provided a hanging cross which was fumbled by Amine Lecomite, but although Niall McGinn was quickly on to the ball, his shot was blocked by a defender.

Northern Ireland's remaining Euro 2016 Group F qualifiers
Romania (home)Saturday, 13 June 2015
Faroe Islands (away)Friday, 4 September 2015
Hungary (home)Monday, 7 September 2015
Greece (home)Thursday, 8 October 2015
Finland (away)Sunday, 11 October 2015

The remainder of the half appeared to be little more than an elaborate training exercise to put Paddy McNair through his paces in a deep-lying midfield role.

The Manchester United player was the first-half's standout player, demanding the ball and alternating between long-range passes and driving runs through the middle.

Oliver Norwood's set-pieces appeared the best chance of a breakthrough, with the Reading man's free-kick drawing an unconvincing save from Lecomte, before a flighted delivery for Brentford's Grigg was glanced just wide.

Having been shut out for 45 minutes it took just 52 seconds of the second half for Northern Ireland to break the deadlock.

A brisk attack saw Aberdeen's McGinn cross from the right, allowing Grigg to flick the ball towards the back post where Dallas steadied himself and rifled home.

Substitute Jamie Ward almost set up a second goal shortly after his arrival, being picked out by Dallas after a sharp breakaway and drilling low across the six-yard box.

Norwood was ready to tap home but Mohamed Musa slid bravely and scooped the ball over his own bar from point-blank range.

Northern Ireland were made to pay for their missed chances when Boudiaf caught substitute keeper Michael McGovern cold with a snap shot from 25 yards that sailed into the top corner.

Liam Boyce and Paddy McCourt were summoned from the bench to change matters but neither they, nor late addition Josh Magennis, could get into the game.

Northern Ireland: Carroll, McLaughlin, Hughes, McNair, Danny Lafferty, Cathcart, Corry Evans, McGinn, Norwood, Dallas, Grigg.

Subs: McGovern, McCullough, Jonny Evans, Reeves, Boyce, Magennis, Lavery, McCourt, Ward, Carson.

Qatar: Lecomte, Traore, Kasola, Ismail, Musa, Yasser, Hatem, El Sayed, Siddiq, Mohammad, Muntari.

Subs: Soufiane, Abdelkarim Hassan, Mukhtar, Muftah, Asadalla, Mohamed, Ilyas, Mohammed Abdullah, Abdulrahman Mohammed, Boudiaf, Jeddo, Muayed Hassan, Al Sheeb.

Referee: Michael Oliver (England)

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