Republic of Ireland manager Martin O’Neill praised the second half efforts of his side, as they came from a goal ...Sun, Jun 11 2017
Report from Dave Donnelly live at Parc Olympique Lyonnais.
Gareth McAuley and Niall McGinn etched their names into Ulster folklore as their second-half goals earned Northern Ireland a first-ever European Championships win over Ukraine at Parc Olympique Lyonnais.
The West Bromwich Albion defender rose in Biblical conditions to arrow home a header, while McGinn buried a rebound deep into injury time to secure the latest famous result for the Green and White Army.
If Northern Ireland's callow performance in defeat in the Pool C opener to Poland was seen as a precursor to more of the same in Lyon, boss Michael O'Neill wasn't in a mood to follow the script.
O'Neill was clearly stung by Ukraine captain Vyacheslav Shevchuk's suggestion earlier in the week that his side was the tournament's most typically 'British' in style, reliant on long balls and physicality.
He pointed out that the Ukrainians themselves had been physical and direct in their loss to Germany, finishing the game with 37% possession, and had a subtle dig at their disciplinary record.
Whether it was an innocent observation of Shevchuk's part or a deliberate attempt to influence the former Shamrock Rovers manager, the comment had at least some influence.
To see the two sides line out, Northern Ireland having relegated Kyle Lafferty and Chris Baird to the bench, against the tall and strongly-built Ukraine side, it was hard not to sympathise with O'Neill.
While the retention of Jonny Evans, albeit at left-back, and the return of Aaron Hughes on the opposite flank suggested a more robust approach than in the loss to Poland, from midfield his selections were far from the most physical available.
Oliver Norwood, Corry Evans and Steven Davis formed a neat midfield triumvirate in the first-half that, though seeing less of the ball than their opposite numbers, invariably created more with it.
Davis, the captain, was the standout player on the field in the opening period, shuffling around the pitch and covering ground effortlessly, like a border collie guiding his flock.
Northern Ireland were the first to threaten, through Stuart Dallas, but his curling effort from range didn't have the pace or direction to challenge Ukrainian goalkeeper Andriy Pyatov.
The Irish were then lucky to escape as Gareth McAuley appeared to handle Viktor Kovalenko's shot in the box after Corry Evans had carelessly allowed himself to be dispossessed close to his own box.
Ukraine hogged possession but only managed to get in behind the Northern Irish defence once in the first-half, and Gareth McAuley was alive to cut out Shevchuk's cross.
More often it was O'Neill's team creating work for the Ukrainian defence, and Conor Washington, Corry Evans and Steven Davis each had chances to grab the decisive opening goal.
It appeared a matter of time before Northern Ireland did take the lead as the disorganised Ukraine defence continued to shake, and Craig Cathcart thought he had when he put a free header just wide of the top corner.
Four minutes in the second-half, with the showers of the first-half now having developed into heavy rain, McAuley succeeded where Cathcart failed as he powered Norwood's cross past Pyatov.
The goal seemed to shock Ukraine into some sort of response, and they almost created a carbon copy just three minutes later, although Yehven Seleznyov could only head straight at Michael McGovern.
It would have been an undeserved equaliser, and normal service resumed shortly after as Northern Ireland continued to pick off their opponents and could have added to the lead when a loose ball nearly fell to Washington eight yards out.
The game was briefly interrupted as torrential rain turned to hail, and the referee ordered both sides from the field at a time it appeared Ukraine had lost any semblance of discipline, and they settled down thereafter.
Norwood stung Pyatov's palms with a strike from distance before a collector's item – an aerial ball won by a Ukrainian player – set up Kovalenko, but his strike from the edge of the box was wayward.
Then, in the last of six minutes of stoppage time, Northern Ireland made certain of the victory with a second goal. With O'Neill screaming at Josh Magennis to run the ball into the corner, the subsitute gets to the byline on the right side of the Ukrainian penalty area and cuts the ball back towards the edge of the box. McGinn dummies it for the onrushing Stuart Dallas whose shot on goal is too hot for Pyatov to handle.
McGinn had continued his run, leaving him ideally placed to tap home the rebound and make sure history was written.
Fittingly, as the game came to a conclusion, the rain subsided and a rainbow arced across the sky as Ukraine's Euro 2016 hopes all but washed away.
Ukraine: Andriy Pyatov; Artem Fedetskiy, Yehven Khacheridi, Yaroslav Rakitskiy, Vyacheslav Shevchuk; Taras Stepanenko, Serhiy Sydorchuk (Denys Garmash, 76), Andriy Yarmolenko, Viktor Kovalenko (Olexandr Zinchenko, 84), Yehven Konoplyanka; Yehven Seleznyov (Roman Zozulya, 72).
Subs not used: Denys Boyko (gk), Mykyta Shevchenko (gk), Bohdan Butko, Anatoliy Tymoshchuk, Olexandr Kucher, Ruslan Rotan, Pylyp Budkivskiy, Serhiy Rybalka, Olexandr Karavaev.
Booked: Yehven Seleznyov (40), Serhiy Sydorchuk (67).
Northern Ireland: Michael McGovern; Aaron Hughes, Craig Cathcart, Gareth McAuley, Jonny Evans; Stephen Davis, Corry Evans (Paddy McNair, 90+1), Oliver Norwood, Jamie Ward (Niall McGinn, 69), Stuart Dallas; Conor Washington (Josh Magennis, 84).
Subs not used: Roy Carroll (gk), Alan Mannus (gk), Conor McLaughlin, Shane Ferguson, Chris Baird, Will Grigg, Kyle Lafferty, Luke McCullough, Lee Hodson.
Booked: Jamie Ward (63), Stuart Dallas (87), Jonny Evans (90+3).
Referee: Pavel Krolovec (Czech Republic).
Extratime.ie Player of the Match: Steven Davis (Northern Ireland).