Northern Ireland draw was pure theatre - Michael O'Neill

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Michael O'Neill says Chris Baird's dismissal against Hungary is the most unusual red card he has ever seen.

Northern Ireland boss Michael O'Neill described Monday's 1-1 draw with Hungary as "pure theatre" after Kyle Lafferty's late leveller left them two points from Euro 2016 qualification.

The out-of-favour Norwich striker kept his side top of Group F with two matches remaining as they look to reach their first European Championship.

"The onus is on Hungary to win their last two games," O'Neill told BBC Radio 5 live.

"It puts you through the mill."

Northern Ireland will qualify for their first major championship since 1986 if they beat Greece at home or Finland away - or draw with both sides.

Hungary, who are four points behind them, host the Faroe Islands and then travel to Greece.

"We're in a great position," said O'Neill. "If you offered us a four-point gap over third place with two games to go, of course we'd have taken that."

'A very, very harsh decision'

Michael O'Neill
Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill was appointed in 2011

O'Neill's men knew victory on Monday would secure qualification, but a mistake from goalkeeper Michael McGovern gifted Hungary the lead with about 16 minutes left.

The hosts' Chris Baird was then sent off for two bookable offences in the same phase of play, before Lafferty's injury-time equaliser was met with scenes of jubilation at Windsor Park.

"I've never seen a player booked twice in one incident and I don't agree with it," said O'Neill.

"There's no doubt he should be booked for the second tackle but he doesn't know he's been booked for the first instance. If he knows he's being booked for the first he won't make the second tackle.

"I can't pretend I know the rules well enough to say if it's legitimate or not but I think it's a very, very harsh decision.

"For a player to be sent off like that could have cost us a place at the finals."

'My own stupidity'

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Kyle Lafferty celebrates scoring the equaliser for Northern Ireland against Hungary

Lafferty last played for Norwich in January, spending spent the latter part of last season on loan at Rizespor in Turkey, where he scored two league goals.

Yet his equaliser on Monday was his seventh goal in eight games for Northern Ireland.

Lafferty will now however have to sit out their home match against Greece because of suspension after a booking for a late tackle.

The 27-year-old, who has had a knee injury this season, told Sky Sports: "My yellow card was stupid, I was too eager. It was the right decision, my own stupidity.

"We have two games left and we need one more push. The fans came here for a party but the champagne is on ice.

"The squad are willing to fight to the end. This team doesn't know when to stop working."

O'Neill added: "We were going to take Kyle off at 0-0. His race looked run, his lack of football is well documented and he was shattered. When they scored we had to keep him on."

Group F

An 'invaluable' equaliser

Former Northern Ireland defender Gerry Taggart on BBC Radio 5 live: "We just do not do things the easy way. It was an amazing last 10 minutes. Everything that could go wrong did go wrong, but Kyle Lafferty's goal is invaluable.

"Greece are going to pick a point up between now and the end of the campaign, they have to. It opens it all up. This is a three-team tournament to qualify. But the pressure is on Hungary, they know they have to win their two games and hope Northern Ireland don't win.

"The problem with Kyle Lafferty over the last few years is maybe off the pitch was taking up too much of his time. Once managers and clubs work you out like that, they will give you a few chances and then come down on you.

"Look at Kyle's career - for whatever reason clubs haven't been able to make him concentrate solely on what happens on the pitch. Maybe this is his time."

BBC Radio 5 live presenter Mark Chapman: "Goalkeeper Mike McGovern felt as though he could not join in the celebrations after his mistake. He was heading towards the changing room but the subs and the backroom staff made sure he did not leave the pitch."

Alistair Bruce Ball, commentator for BBC Radio 5 live in Belfast: "Had Northern Ireland lost that game it was right in Hungary's hands, with the two games they have left. That was a big goal for Northern Ireland."

How social media reacted

Gary Lineker
BBC Match of the Day presenter and former England striker Gary Lineker enjoyed Kyle Lafferty's equaliser
Northern Ireland
The Football Association of Northern Ireland did not try to hide their joy on social media

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