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Sunday 4 December 2016

Lafferty heroics keeps North top

Kyle Lafferty celebrates after scoring a late equaliser for Northern Ireland against Hungary at Windsor Park last night
Kyle Lafferty celebrates after scoring a late equaliser for Northern Ireland against Hungary at Windsor Park last night

Kyle Lafferty struck a stoppage-time equaliser as 10-man Northern Ireland salvaged a point against Hungary to keep their Euro 2016 dreams very much on course.

Victory on the 10th anniversary of their famous win over England would have secured Michael O'Neill's men a place in France next summer, but the night looked set to end in acrimony as Michael McGovern's goalkeeping error gifted Richard Guzmics the opener in the 74th minute.

Chris Baird was sent off with eight minutes left, having committed a pair of fouls within seconds, but Lafferty's seventh strike of the campaign - a close-range blast following up Niall McGinn's effort - ensured a 1-1 draw.

With Romania drawing against Greece, O'Neill's men remain top of Group F - though Lafferty will miss the potentially decisive clash with the Greeks next month having picked up a second booking.

It was a frenetic, febrile finish in Belfast but once again showed Northern Ireland's desire to reach a first major tournament in 30 years is alive and kicking.

Lafferty celebrated his close-range effort with gusto, charging down the flank and leaping in joy, but even he cannot have been as pleased as McGovern, whose handling error looked to have settled matters. Having been retained ahead of long-standing number one Roy Carroll, it was a dreadful moment for the Hamilton stopper.

The game started at a frenetic pace, with Northern Ireland captain Steven Davis tearing into a thunderous tackle just a minute into proceedings and a scattering of rushed passes hurting the flow.

One free-kick earned Oliver Norwood the chance to put his laces behind a swirling 30-yarder, but Gabor Kiraly managed a tumbling low save.

The second half was five minutes old when Lafferty had a sniff of goal.

Gareth McAuley nodded a free-kick into his team-mate's path but Lafferty's outstretched boot failed to make meaningful contact.

Conor McLaughlin joined Lafferty in earning a one-game ban when he was booked for a push on Kalmar, whose free-kick was creeping under the bar until McGovern pushed it over.

The 31-year-old's next involvement ended in tears as he came to claim a regulation catch from Dzsudzsak's hanging free-kick.

Inexplicably he let the ball slide through his gloves, leaving a disbelieving Guzmics a one-yard finish.

But that man Lafferty, unable to get a game at Norwich, unable to stop scoring international goals, belted home first time to grab a critical point.

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