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35 shots, four goals

Jamie Ward of Northern Ireland and San Marino's Alessandro Della Valle battle for the ball at Windsor Park

Northern Ireland clinched victory over San Marino who have never won a competitive match

Kyle Lafferty scored two late goals as Northern Ireland finished strongly to complete their expected win over San Marino at Windsor Park.

Steven Davis gave Michael O’Neill’s men the lead with a 26th-minute penalty.

San Marino’s Mirko Palazzi was sent off early in the second half but Northern Ireland left it until the final 12 minutes to make sure of the victory.

Lafferty flicked in number two, with Ward blasting in an 86th-minute third before Lafferty netted again.

  • Relive all the action from Northern Ireland v San Marino

The win puts Northern Ireland, who forced 11 saves from keeper Aldo Simoncini with their 35 shots, in third place in World Cup Qualifying Group C on four points.

They sit behind Germany and Azerbaijan, who are both on the maximum six points after their two games.

There was a mood of celebration before the match as the National Stadium in Belfast was officially reopened by Fifa president Gianni Infantino.

A pre-match parade marked the redeveloped ground’s completion, with the 18,234 crowd applauding the likes of world champion boxer Carl Frampton on a ‘lap of legends’.

But for long periods Northern Ireland’s performance struggled to live up to the occasion in a match they were expected to win comfortably.

True, an NI victory looked assured once Davis had netted from the spot, but O’Neill’s men should have added more goals before out-of-favour Norwich striker Lafferty and Burton’s on-loan Ward made sure of the victory.

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Kyle Lafferty scored twice after coming on as a substitute for Northern Ireland

Penalty eases early frustration

The hosts were expected to cruise to a comfortable victory over a country who have never won a competitive match, conceded 54 goals in their last World Cup qualifying campaign and are ranked more than 170 places below the men in green in the Fifa rankings.

Memories of the last World Cup campaign when Northern Ireland lost away to Azerbaijan, picked up one point from two matches with Luxembourg and were defeated at home to Israel were largely banished by a successful Euro 2016 qualifying campaign, but nerves lingered as the hosts struggled to break down their opponents.

Davis and Ward were among those to pass up first-half chances, while Adolfo Hirsch went close for the visitors when he shot over from the edge of the box.

Late goals see job done

Northern Ireland had failed to score in five of their last six games and their frustration grew in the second half as they passed up a series of opportunities.

Niall McGinn and Magennis were denied by the visiting goalkeeper in the second half while Davis was among those to shoot wide of the target.

Lafferty’s strike 11 minutes from time eased Northern Ireland nerves, then Ward added the third with five minutes remaining.

Ferguson crossed from the left and Lafferty headed into the path of Ward, who smashed home from close range.

Lafferty’s late goal ensured a final scoreline which more accurately reflected their dominance and banished memories of their earlier profligacy in front of goal.

Lafferty stakes recall claim

It was Lafferty, hero of the successful Euro 2016 qualifying campaign, who proved the inspiration for giving the scoreline a more comfortable look.

The 29-year-old, who has been left on the sidelines for much of this season, belied his lack of game time for Norwich by chipping in with those two late goals, taking his overall international tally to 19.

Lafferty grabbed his first by turning the ball into the net from close range after meeting Shane Ferguson’s cross and then tapped home Davis’ ball with the final kick of the game.

The striker’s double will give O’Neill something to think about for Tuesday’s trip to face Germany, the NI boss having opted to go with Charlton Athletic frontman Josh Magennis from the start against San Marino.

Man of the match

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Steven Davis was the outstanding performer for Northern Ireland, dominating affairs from midfield and showing relentless energy in driving his team-mates forward and inspiring them to victory

The facts you need to know

  • Kyle Lafferty has scored nine times in his last 11 qualifiers for Northern Ireland.
  • Steven Davis’ converted spot-kick was the first penalty Northern Ireland have scored in a qualifier since September 2007 (David Healy v Iceland).
  • San Marino have picked up a red card in each of their opening two World Cup 2018 qualifiers.
  • Northern Ireland have won all three of their games against San Marino, scoring 11 times without conceding.
  • San Marino are still awaiting their first ever World Cup qualifying win (D2 L56).

What next?

Northern Ireland now turn their thoughts to Tuesday’s Group C qualifier against Germany in Hanover and what a contrast that promises to be compared to this match.

San Marino and the Germans are separated by 198 places in the Fifa world rankings, with the former having never won a competitive game and the latter losing just two of 85 World Cup qualifiers in their history.

Live Text

Match ends, Northern Ireland 4, San Marino 0.

Second Half ends, Northern Ireland 4, San Marino 0.

Goal! Northern Ireland 4, San Marino 0. Kyle Lafferty (Northern Ireland) right footed shot from very close range to the centre of the goal. Assisted by Steven Davis.

Foul by Jamie Ward (Northern Ireland).

Alessandro Della Valle (San Marino) wins a free kick in the defensive half.

Attempt missed. Paddy McNair (Northern Ireland) right footed shot from the centre of the box is too high. Assisted by Kyle Lafferty.

Foul by Kyle Lafferty (Northern Ireland).

Alessandro Della Valle (San Marino) wins a free kick in the defensive half.

Attempt blocked. Kyle Lafferty (Northern Ireland) right footed shot from the centre of the box is blocked. Assisted by Jamie Ward with a cross.

Attempt saved. Kyle Lafferty (Northern Ireland) header from the centre of the box is saved in the bottom right corner. Assisted by Jamie Ward with a cross.

Substitution, San Marino. Tommaso Zafferani replaces Mattia Stefanelli.

Attempt missed. Kyle Lafferty (Northern Ireland) left footed shot from the centre of the box misses to the left. Assisted by Steven Davis with a cross.

Goal! Northern Ireland 3, San Marino 0. Jamie Ward (Northern Ireland) right footed shot from the right side of the six yard box to the top right corner. Assisted by Kyle Lafferty.

Attempt missed. Kyle Lafferty (Northern Ireland) header from the centre of the box misses to the right. Assisted by Shane Ferguson with a cross.

Attempt blocked. Oliver Norwood (Northern Ireland) right footed shot from the right side of the box is blocked. Assisted by Conor Washington.

Attempt blocked. Niall McGinn (Northern Ireland) right footed shot from the left side of the box is blocked. Assisted by Jonny Evans with a through ball.

Attempt missed. Jamie Ward (Northern Ireland) right footed shot from outside the box misses to the left. Assisted by Paddy McNair.

Attempt missed. Jamie Ward (Northern Ireland) header from the centre of the box misses to the right. Assisted by Niall McGinn with a cross.

Foul by Kyle Lafferty (Northern Ireland).

Fabio Vitaioli (San Marino) wins a free kick in the defensive half.

Goal! Northern Ireland 2, San Marino 0. Kyle Lafferty (Northern Ireland) right footed shot from the centre of the box to the bottom right corner. Assisted by Shane Ferguson with a cross.

Attempt saved. Steven Davis (Northern Ireland) left footed shot from the centre of the box is saved in the centre of the goal. Assisted by Niall McGinn.

Attempt missed. Niall McGinn (Northern Ireland) right footed shot from the left side of the box is close, but misses the top right corner. Assisted by Steven Davis.

Substitution, Northern Ireland. Paddy McNair replaces Conor McLaughlin.

Attempt saved. Conor Washington (Northern Ireland) right footed shot from the left side of the box is saved in the centre of the goal. Assisted by Steven Davis.

Foul by Niall McGinn (Northern Ireland).

Mattia Stefanelli (San Marino) wins a free kick in the defensive half.

Attempt saved. Conor Washington (Northern Ireland) right footed shot from the right side of the box is saved in the bottom left corner. Assisted by Conor McLaughlin.

Corner, Northern Ireland. Conceded by Mattia Stefanelli.

Substitution, Northern Ireland. Kyle Lafferty replaces Josh Magennis.

Foul by Conor McLaughlin (Northern Ireland).

Marco Berardi (San Marino) wins a free kick in the defensive half.

Substitution, San Marino. Enrico Golinucci replaces Matteo Coppini.

Attempt missed. Conor Washington (Northern Ireland) right footed shot from the right side of the six yard box misses to the left.

Attempt saved. Jamie Ward (Northern Ireland) right footed shot from outside the box is saved in the bottom right corner. Assisted by Steven Davis.

Attempt saved. Josh Magennis (Northern Ireland) left footed shot from the left side of the box is saved in the bottom right corner. Assisted by Oliver Norwood.

Foul by Conor Washington (Northern Ireland).

Aldo Junior Simoncini (San Marino) wins a free kick in the defensive half.

Attempt saved. Jamie Ward (Northern Ireland) left footed shot from the right side of the box is saved in the top centre of the goal. Assisted by Oliver Norwood.

Substitution, Northern Ireland. Conor Washington replaces Stuart Dallas.

Article source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/football/37527502