NI held at home by Slovenia
Stalemate keeps hosts in play-off qualification hunt in Group C
Last Updated: 29/03/11 10:16pm
Brunt: Had late chance
Northern Ireland played out a goalless stalemate with Slovenia at Windsor Park to maintain their Group C hopes.
Slovenia had the better of the first period and Josip Ilicic forced Lee Camp into a good save.
Nigel Worthington's side improved after the break and Gareth McAuley had a header cleared from off the line.
Chris Brunt was then almost the hero for his side but the West Brom man fell agonisingly short of of converting Corry Evans' cross, while at the other end Camp did well to deny substitute Zlatko Dedic near the end.
The result leaves Northern Ireland, who lost in Serbia on Friday night, in fifth place in Group C, two points behind the second-placed Slovenians with a game in hand.
Worthington's men were second best for much of the game as they lost the ball cheaply throughout.
In the sixth minute Ilicic tried his luck when he lashed a loose ball at goal from 25 yards.
Camp, on his home debut, was well placed but fumbled the ball. Luckily for Northern Ireland, there was nobody following up for Slovenia.
Marko Suler followed Ilicic's lead moments later, striking from the edge of the area but this time Camp held on safely.
There was a moment of hesitation in the Slovenia box soon after, Grant McCann almost taking advantage of some confusion between Samir Handanovic and Miso Brecko.
A clever touch by Brunt released Warren Feeney on the counter attack but he narrowly failed to pull away from his marker as he charged toward goal.
With 20 minutes gone Sammy Clingan lost possession in a dangerous area, allowing Armin Bacinovic to showcase some neat footwork before laying the ball to Ilicic.
His shot tested Camp again and the Nottingham Forest man was able to tip over the bar.
Northern Ireland were looking short of ideas up front, too frequently surrendering possession after playing high balls to Feeney.
Slovenia were a little more composed, with Valter Birsa dangerous in attack, and the crowd were growing restless the more the visitors retained the ball.
The lively Ilicic limped off after 29 minutes, replaced by Gent's Zlatan Ljubijankic.
Finally, four minutes before the interval, the hosts managed their first attempt on goal.
It was a good one too, Clingan lining up a free-kick from 20 yards and sending it just wide of the post with keeper Handanovic beaten.
Feeney re-emerged with a bandaged head after receiving four stitches following a knock in the first half.
Things almost took a turn for the worse in the 49th minute, Milivoje Novakovic shooting over after meeting a crisp low cross eight yards from goal.
Corry Evans almost created something out of nothing when he charged down a lost cause in the Slovenia area, but the midfielder's exuberance earned him a yellow card seconds later.
Suler went close when he latched onto Andraz Kirm's cross at the near post, heading into the side netting to Camp's relief.
McAuley, captain for the day in Aaron Hughes' absence, was in fine form at the back, twice making last-ditch slides to end dangerous moves as Slovenia grew more confident.
With the game apparently getting away from Northern Ireland, McAuley almost made his mark at the other end for the second time in a week.
Having scored the opener against Serbia, he met McCann's hanging free-kick at the far post and nodded towards goal.
Handanovic was out of the picture but Matej Mavric was on hand to clear off the line.
With 20 minutes remaining Worthington sent on Millwall forward Josh McQuoid, winning his second cap and slotting in on the left flank.
McQuoid was quickly into the action, getting on the end of Corry Evans' cross but failing to test the goalkeeper.
As the game entered the last 10 minutes, the home side produced their best move of the match.
Jonny Evans played a fine cross-field ball to his brother Corry on the right and he laid it back across goal first time with a neat touch.
Brunt raced to meet it inside the six-yard box but the ball agonisingly brushed his boot and crept to safety.
There was time for Camp to make a fine save from Dedic as both sides failed to make a vital breakthrough.However, there is still all to play for in the hunt for the play-off place after Estonia and Serbia could only draw in Group C's other game on Tuesday night, meaning just two points separate the four sides chasing behind leaders Italy.
|Northern Ireland||Team Statistics||Slovenia|
|0||1st Half Goals||0|
|0||Shots on Target||3|
|4||Shots off Target||8|
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Czech Rep2 - 0Liechtenstein
Lithuania1 - 3Spain
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Sweden2 - 1Moldova
Netherlands5 - 3Hungary
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Estonia1 - 1Serbia
N Ireland0 - 0Slovenia
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|2||Republic of Ireland||10||21|
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