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October 15, 2018
Uefa Nations League: Austria 1-0 Northern Ireland
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Uefa Nations League: Austria 1-0 Northern Ireland

Jamal Lewis and Valentino Lazaro challenge for possession during the match in Vienna

Northern Ireland’s Nations League hopes suffered a major setback as Marko Arnautovic’s second-half goal condemned them to a 1-0 defeat by Austria.

NI had lost their opening game 2-1 to Bosnia-Herzegovina in Group B3 of the competition in September.

Arnautovic ran in behind Paddy McNair and slipped the ball past Bailey Peacock-Farrell for the winner.

Paddy McNair and Steven Davis had chances while Will Grigg’s late header cannoned off the inside of the post.

Northern Ireland are bottom without a point and in danger of relegation to the third-tier Group C with games against the Bosnians in Sarajevo on Monday and Austria in Belfast in November still to come.

Austria move into contention to win the group with this victory but Bosnia-Herzegovina remain top on six points, having also beaten the Austrians 1-0 last month.

The inaugural Nations League offers countries a potential backdoor route to the Euro 2020 finals if they fail to finish in the top two of their qualifying groups for the tournament.

This match was NI’s sixth of 2018 as they continue their build-up to that qualification campaign, which runs from March to November next year.

Contrast in recent form

Austria secured their fourth win in 10 meetings between the sides exactly 13 years to the day since the countries last met, the hosts running out 2-0 winners in Vienna on that occasion.

Michael O’Neill’s side have now won just two of their last 10 matches and have failed to score in eight of their last 10 away games, including the last five in a row.

In contrast, Franco Foda’sAustria, ranked four places above their opponents in the Fifa rankings, have taken victories in nine of their most recent 11 matches.

George Saville and Stefan Ilsanker contend for possession at the Ernst Happel Stadium

‘Forward thinking’

The build-up to the game was dominated by the late withdrawal from the squad of Rangers striker Kyle Lafferty, who ruled himself out on Sunday night, citing an Achilles injury.

Bolton Wanderers forward Josh Magennis was handed a lone central role up front as O’Neill opted for a 4-3-3 formation, with Millwall’s Shane Ferguson handed a first competitive start for almost two years.

Ferguson headed over from Oliver Norwood’s cross from the right during a scrappy uneventful first half, while after the break McNair’s left-foot strike was palmed away by Heinz Lindner.

Steven Davis was unable to add to his prolific scoring record during October internationals – seven of his 11 to date have come during this month – when he skewed a shot wide of the target after Stuart Dallas had headed into his path.

Rotherham striker Kyle Vassell won his first cap after being called into the squad for the first time and introduced as a second-half substitute but it was another replacement off the bench, Will Grigg, who went agonisingly close to equalising late in the game when his header from a corner cannoned off the inside of the post.

Peacock-Farrell impresses

Bailey Pecaock-Farrell was restored to the starting line-up, having been handed a starting berth against B&H but dropping to the bench for the friendly against Israel three days later.

The Leeds United goalkeeper conceded a free-kick in a dangerous position in the first half when he picked up a back-pass from Craig Cathcart but made two fine saves at the start of the second half.

First he tipped West Ham striker Arnautovic’s low right-foot shot round the post and then he was down quickly to deny Stefan Ilsanker a few minutes later.

The 21-year-old could do nothing to prevent the Austrian striker’s winner however as Arnautovic finished clinically after being played on-side by Jamal Lewis.

Austria, who were without injured Bayern Munich wing-back David Alaba for this fixture, now face Denmark in a friendly on Tuesday.

Source BBC News

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