Gavin Whyte needed less than two minutes of his Northern Ireland debut to find the net as Michael O’Neill’s side enjoyed a 3-0 win over Israel in a friendly at Windsor Park last night. Whyte scored the third goal of the night moments after coming on as a substitute to add to first-half strikes from captain Steven Davis and Stuart Dallas.
It helped the hosts to a first win in four and a much-needed result after the frustration of Saturday’s 2-1 UEFA Nations League loss to Bosnia & Herzegovina in a match Northern Ireland dominated.
Though they did not enjoy the same levels of possession or create as many chances, Northern Ireland did succeed in carving out clear openings - and then made them count.
O’Neill made five changes from the weekend, with Will Grigg rewarded for his stoppage-time consolation goal with his first Windsor Park start, while Trevor Carson replaced Bailey Peacock-Farrell in goal.
Israel, under new management and fresh from a 1-0 loss to Albania, proved tougher opponents than Bosnia to break down, and it was not until Jamal Lewis’ blocked effort in the 10th minute that Northern Ireland had a strike at goal.
But after Moanes Dabour squandered a fine chance for Israel- when he turned down the opportunity to shoot first time - the visitors were punished by Davis’ 13th-minute opener.
Paddy McNair won a corner after an impressive burst down the right, and with echoes of David Healy’s goal against Spain 12 years ago, the Middlesbrough man pulled the ball back for Davis to lash home from the edge of the area.
They had the lead, but Northern Ireland were not looking comfortable yet. Israel, who lost their first match under new coach Andreas Herzog to Albania on Friday, showed plenty of endeavour going forward and twice threatened through QPR forward Tomer Hemed.
The hosts were struggling to apply pressure but that began to change as half-time approached.
McNair’s free-kick from the right narrowly avoided Grigg’s leap and after Davis’ shot was blocked in the aftermath, the ball came out to George Saville.
The 25-year-old took a long look before sending in a deep ball from the left and Dallas was on hand to fire in at the back post five minutes before the break.
That set up a more comfortable second half for the hosts, and one that was highlighted by Whyte’s instant impact as as substitute.
Moments after Saville spurned a fine chance from close range, the Oxford man replaced Jordan Jones, and he had been on the pitch less than two minutes when he scored his first international goal.
Dallas’ cross from the left found fellow substitute Conor Washington, and when his shot was saved Whyte darted in to poke home the rebound.
Washington went close to a fourth twice in the last five minutes as he was denied from close range, but Northern Ireland had already done enough to get the frustration of the weekend out of their system.