Northern Ireland 1 - 0 Slovenia: Washington posts his claim

Scorer Conor Washington and Oliver Norwood celebrate the winning goal. Picture: PA
Scorer Conor Washington and Oliver Norwood celebrate the winning goal. Picture: PA
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Northern Ireland set a new record of ten games unbeaten thanks to a goal by Conor Washington on just his second visit to the country.

The benchmark of nine games without defeat, set by Billy Bingham’s team when they reached the 1986 World Cup, was eclipsed by the next Northern Irish team to qualify for a major tournament.

Their matchwinner was not part of the start of that run, but the Kent-born former postman may have done enough last night to get a seat on the plane to France for Euro 2016.

Washington’s only previous trip to Northern Ireland had been for Peterborough in pre-season and the QPR striker ensured he made his mark during this visit by out-muscling two Slovenia defenders before firing past Atletico Madrid goalkeeper Jan Oblak.

Goalkeeper Roy Carroll had been present for the 2-1 win over Finland 12 months ago when Northern Ireland began their ten-game sequence, and the 38-year-old had a major part to play in preserving the streak by saving a second-half penalty by Milivoje Novakovic.

Whether Washington starts or not against Poland on 12 June in his country’s opening fixture in France may depend on what formation boss Michael O’Neill selects.

There had been little evidence of any international quality from Washington, until that changed just before the half-hour when he gave the first indication he belongs at this level.

Collecting a poked pass from Oliver Norwood, he wrong-footed Miral Samaradzic and only Oblak’s legs prevented him from making it 1-0.

However, four minutes before half-time, he would not be denied. From a long ball, Washington bounced off Samaradzic, barged Nejc Skubic off the ball and shifting inside Bostjan Cesar before drilling beyond a static Oblak.

All eyes were on the Irish goal at the other end when Jonny Evans was adjudged to have fouled Samardzic.

Novakovic sent the spot-kick to Carroll’s right, but the veteran guessed that way and kept the ball out.