Greece 3-1 Northern Ireland: Visitors slump to another Nations League defeat despite Shayne Lavery’s early strike but Ian Baraclough’s side avoid finishing bottom of their group
- Striker Shayne Lavery cancelled out a soft opening goal from Dimitrios Pelkas
- Goals from Giorgos Masouras and Petros Mantalos secured a deserved win
- Cyprus’ defeat to Kosovo meant that Northern Ireland avoided being relegated
The only good news on a hot and rather humbling night in Athens was that Northern Ireland avoided the threat of Nations League relegation.
Cyprus’ 5-1 defeat to Kosovo spared Ian Baraclough’s side the embarrassment of finishing bottom of Group C2 despite capitulating to Greece at the Georgios Kamaras Stadium.
But Northern Ireland are now set to drop into pot five for the Euro 2024 draw next month, meaning they will face a much tougher qualifying group on the road to Germany.
Northern Ireland fell to another Nations League defeat in Greece but avoided finishing bottom
Shayne Lavery pounced to steer home a volley from close range to level in the 18th minute
GREECE (4-3-3): Vlachodimos; Tsimikas, Hatzidiakos, Mavropanos, Baldock; Bakasetas (Bouchalakis 76), Kourbelis, Mantalos; Masouras (Chatzigiovanis 76), Ioannidis (Douvikas 67), Pelkas (Fountas 67).
Subs not used: Kyriakopoulos, Alexandropoulos, Paschalakis, Barkas, Rota, Papanikolaou, Koulierakis.
Scorers: Pelkas 14, Masouras 55, Mantalos 80
N IRELAND (3-5-2): Peacock-Farrell; McNair, J Evans, Flanagan; Bradley (Charles 68), Thompson (Saville 9), McCann, Davis, Lewis (Ferguson 76); Magennis (McMenamin 77), Lavery (Whyte 68).
Subs not used: Charles, Hazard, C Evans, Balmer, Lane, Brown, Southwood.
Scorer: Lavery 18
Booked: Flanagan, McCann
After finally winning a Nations League game at the 15th attempt against Kosovo in Belfast on Saturday, Northern Ireland were brought down to earth as they finished a wretched campaign with five points from six matches.
Blackpool striker Shayne Lavery cancelled out a soft opening goal from Dimitrios Pelkas, but Georgios Masouras and Petros Mantalos gave group winners Greece a deserved win.
It spoiled a landmark night for Leicester City’s Jonny Evans who was handed the captain’s armband on his 100th appearance, becoming only the fourth Northern Irishman to reach a century of caps.
Burnley goalkeeper Bailey Peacock-Farrell won’t look back on the occasion with any fondness either.
It got off to a difficult start when a groggy Jordan Thompson was forced out of the game in only the fifth minute following an off-the-ball challenge from Mantalos who was then booked for a cynical foul on Ali McCann.
Worse still, Northern Ireland gifted the hosts a goal in the 14th minute when Peacock-Farrell spilled a cross from Fotis Ioannidis after bumping into teammate Paddy McNair and Hull striker Pelkas stooped to head home.
Greece’s lead last just four minutes, however, as Steven Davis swung over a cross from the left and Lavery stole in to guide the ball past goalkeeper Odusseus Vlachodomos.
Gus Poyet’s side dominated the second half and regained the lead when Davis’ pass was intercepted and Mantalos combined with Anastasios Bakasetas for Masouras to score from close range.
Mistake by captain Steven Davis led to Giorgos Masouras scoring the second from close range
Petros Mantalos sealed victory with a 25-yard thunderbolt past goalkeeper Peacock-Farrell
Mantalos made sure of victory in the 80th minute when Peacock-Farrell couldn’t keep out his spectacular effort from 25 yards.
Some of the 1,000 travelling fans called for Baraclough to go, and he said: ‘It’s not what we wanted but we qualified from pot five in 2016 so it can be done.
‘I think we’re developing. You see players coming in and finding their way. Strangely, we will be better for the experience.’