Northern Ireland match-winner Josh Magennis admitted he had worried the mood was going to turn ugly before two late goals earned a come-from-behind 2-1 victory over Kosovo to finally end their long winless run in the Nations League.
Gavin Whyte cancelled out Vedat Muriqi’s strike in the 82nd minute before sending in the cross which Magennis powered home in stoppage time to give Northern Ireland their first win in this competition at the 15th attempt, and relieve some of the pressure on Ian Baraclough.
A small section of fans had again been calling for the manager to go before Whyte’s equaliser, and this win was huge for Northern Ireland for several reasons after a testing few days which saw both Kyle Lafferty and Conor McMenamin withdrawn from the squad due to videos circulating online.
“It was hard, tough graft,” Magennis said. “It was on the verge of being, not toxic but they [the fans] were not happy.
“I’m just happy we showed the character. The first half wasn’t the best but in the second half we had to come out and perform. Going a goal behind at any level is tough, but to equalise and then go on and win is massive.”
The Wigan striker admitted he did not actually see his header hit the net, but knew from the noise inside Windsor Park what had happened.
“It was the type of goal I love trying to create,” he said.
“Gavin is an out-and-out winger, one of the last of the old school, and I knew from training all week when he gets past his defender he will put it in the box and thank God when it came in I knew if it was on target it would have a good chance of going in.
“I didn’t actually see it go in, I was on the floor but then the place erupted. To be the winner was brilliant.”
The official announcement that McMenamin had been withdrawn from the squad was made less than hour before kick-off, and only a day after Lafferty had also been sent home.
After the match Baraclough said the issues had been a distraction the squad could do without, but Magennis believes the players handled it the right way.
“It wasn’t a difficult environment in the last few days,” he said. “The gaffer took that responsibility on himself and told us to just concentrate on playing.
“We were aware of everything; they are our team-mates and at the hotel it is a confined space, you can’t get away from anyone for 10 days, so we knew what was going on.
“But before it had a chance to come to us, Patrick (Nelson, IFA chief executive), the gaffer and (captain Steven Davis) took it on themselves to look after the situation and that’s what they did.
“We knew it was always going to be on people’s minds, and people would make their opinions known but life is like that.
“We tried the best we could just to perform and thankfully we were able to get the win.”