Nl Extend Unbeaten Run To 12 With Draw In Slovakia

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Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill introduced Aaron Hughes for his 100th cap in Saturday's friendly draw in Slovakia

Northern Ireland will go into Euro 2016 on the back of a record 12-match unbeaten run after drawing away to fellow finalists Slovakia in Trnava.

Former captain Aaron Hughes won his 100th cap as a 30th-minute substitute for defender Craig Cathcart who hobbled off injured after being fouled.

Cathcart was one of several players on the receiving end of tough tackles.

Visiting keeper Michael McGovern made some fine saves while Kyle Lafferty had a penalty claim turned down.

Lafferty felt his shot had been blocked by Peter Pekarik’s arm, but referee Marian Radu Petrescu did not see it as a spot-kick.

Robert Mak came the closest to scoring for the hosts only to be denied by Hamilton stopper McGovern who was quickly off his line, while Martin Skrtel almost scored a late own goal following a Paddy McNair cross.

The Liverpool defender diverted McNair’s driven cross towards his own goal, and keeper Matus Kozacik was forced into a save.

Northern Ireland open their Euro campaign on 12 June against Poland in Nice, the day after Slovakia meet Wales in Bordeaux.

Cathcart and Lafferty injury concerns

One of Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill’s chief concerns was to see his players come through unscathed with the opening Euro 2016 game against Poland just eight days away.

Worryingly for him, several key men were on the receiving end of some hefty challenges.

Aaron Hughes wins an aerial duel in Trnava
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Aaron Hughes proud as he wins 100th Northern Ireland cap in Slovakia draw

Gareth McAuley and Jonny Evans picked up minor knocks before the other man in the back three, Watford defender Cathcart, had to limp off after being fouled.

That led to 36-year-old Hughes coming on to win his 100th cap as a 30th-minute substitute.

It had been expected the former Newcastle and Aston Villa man would come one at some point for his landmark appearance, but O’Neill was forced to make the change earlier than planned.

As well as Cathcart, O’Neill will await a fitness update on striker Lafferty who came off in the second half with a leg injury.

O’Neill’s selection posers

Manager O’Neill deployed his favoured 3-5-2 formation, setting the team up in the way he will want them to play against Poland.

Paddy McNair caught the eye again in a wide role on the right while Millwall’s Shane Ferguson came into the team to stake his claim for a starting role in Nice.

They appear to be competing with Conor McLaughlin and the absent Stuart Dallas for selection.

Any lingering doubts on who will be NI’s first-choice keeper will have been ended by another solid display by McGovern.

The Northern Ireland squad head to their Lyon base on Sunday in good heart and with that record unbeaten sequence.

It was another outstanding defensive performance against a Slovakian side which had had defeated world champions Germany on 29 May.

 

[Source  BBC]