AFTER suffering a defeat by Azerbaijan with ten men and incurring more unwanted disciplinary problems, Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill complained about the time-wasting tactics of the opposition and claimed Azerbaijan manager Berti Vogts apologised for it – a claim the former Scotland boss denied.
“Berti Vogts apologised to me at the end for the behaviour of his players – as he did in Belfast,” said O’Neill. “I thought the referee should have been stronger. Azerbaijan players went down with every challenge and always tried to stop the game.”
Vogts, who was given a standing ovation by the local media as he arrived for his briefing, had a different view of their exchange. “No, of course I did not apologise, I said ‘good luck in Israel’. Why would I apologise? I am very, very happy with my players, especially with the second half. I give credit to my opponent, they should have scored two goals in the first half but after that we played very, very good football.”
After last month’s similarly depressing 3-2 reverse in Luxembourg, Northern Ireland have taken just two points from a possible 12 against the two lowest ranked teams in their World Cup qualifying group, and they now have just one match to avoid an embarrassing bottom-placed finish.
The result was compounded by Jonny Evans’ injury-time red card for a crude foul that led to Azerbaijan’s second goal, a free kick by Mahir Shukurov. Rufat Dadasov had opened the scoring just before the hour mark.
Aberdeen’s Niall McGinn and Inverness CT’s Billy McKay both came on in the second half.
Azerbaijan: K Agayev, Shukurov, Ramaldanov, Sadygov, Allahverdiev, Qarayev, Amirquliev, A Abdullayev (Ozkara 82), Aliyev, Nadirov (Huseynov 45), Dadasov (Guseynov 90). Subs not used: Nazirov, Sadyqov, Javadov, Gokdemir, Medvedev, Budak, Levin, Ismailov, S Agayev.
Northern Ireland: Carroll, Cathcart, J Evans, McAuley, Hodson (McGinn 66), Norwood, Davis, Brunt (McKay 74), Ferguson, Paterson, Ward (Grigg 84). Subs not used: Mannus, Lafferty, Baird, C Evans, Bruce, McArdle, Clingan, Little, McGovern.
Referee: A De Marco (It). Attendance: 7,000.