I’m delighted for Aaron Hughes tonight. You could make a pretty convincing case for the central defender being our best player this season. He’s been outstanding at the heart of our defence and he’s taken that form into the international fixtures. Hughes helped Northern Ireland to a famous win over Poland at Windsor Park tonight – a victory which vaulted Northern Ireland to the top of Group Three.
The scoreline probably didn’t reflect the level of Northern Ireland’s dominance throughout the confidence. Poland, one of the favourites to progress from this group, were disappointing, strangely disjointed and very dodgy in defence. They didn’t look up for the contest and could have been a couple of goals down by the time Warren Feeney put Northern Ireland in front.
The Celtic goalkeeper Artur Boruc had a torrid time in the Polish goal. He was unconvincing in trying to deal with Chris Brunt’s cross and Damien Johnson, skipper for the night as he won his 50th cap, headed the ball back across goal for Feeney to open the scoring.
Poland launched sporadic attacks throughout and they scored a controversial equaliser with their first attack of the evening. Roger Guerreiro’s hopeful ball forward seemed to have caught Jelen offside but the Auxerre striker was allowed to continue and fire an assured finish past Maik Taylor. The lamentable incident which saw the assistant referee struck by an object thrown from the crowd afterwards is a reminder that football’s unsavoury side still hasn’t gone away.
Northern Ireland were far from daunted by the Polish equaliser however. Manchester United defender Jonny Evans was on hand to punish some slack marking from a corner, scoring his first goal for his country at the near post. A comical goal increased the Northern Irish lead when Boruc failed to clear a backpass from Michal Zewlakow, the ball hitting a divot and looping over his foot into the net.
Southampton’s Marek Saganowski reduced Poland’s arrears in injury time with a brave diving header but Northern Ireland hung on for a deserved victory. They will attempt to consolidate their advantage at the top of Group Three when they welcome Slovenia to Belfast on Wednesday night.