A draw between Bosnia and Austria would relegate Northern Ireland
By Ben Grounds
Last Updated: 15/10/18 10:31pm
Edin Dzeko scored twice as Northern Ireland suffered a 2-0 defeat by Bosnia and Herzegovina to leave their hopes of avoiding relegation from League B in the UEFA Nations League out of their hands.
Dzeko broke the deadlock after Miralem Pjanic pounced on a mistake by Jamal Lewis to allow the Roma striker to apply a simple finish (27).
Dzeko added a second with another accomplished strike (73) to leave Northern Ireland rooted to the bottom of Group B3 without a point from their three games.
A draw between Bosnia and Austria in the next match on November 15 would relegate Michael O’Neill’s side, who were again left to rue several missed chances.
Bosnia: Sehic (7), Civic (6), Vranjes (7), Zukanovic (6), Sunjic (6), Besic (7), Saric (7), Pjanic (8), Duljevic (7), Visca (7), Dzeko (8).
Subs: Milosevic (n/a), Cimirot (n/a), Zakaric (n/a).
Northern Ireland: Peacock-Farrell (6), J. Evans (6), Cathcart (7), McNair (7), Lewis (6), Davis (6), Saville (7), Norwood (6), C. Evans (6), Dallas (6), Boyce (7).
Subs: Whyte (6), Magennis (n/a), Vassell (6).
Man of the match: Edin Dzeko
George Saville was unable to convert from Steven Davis’ cross before the Middlesbrough midfielder met Lewis’ low delivery, but his effort on the turn came back off the post.
Lewis, who was making only his fourth start for his country, then cruelly lost his footing at the vital moment when attempting to intercept a through-ball as Edin Visca reacted fastest to tee up Dzeko for a composed opener.
Michael O’Neill made two changes to the side which were beaten 1-0 by Austria in Vienna as Corry Evans won his 50th cap and Liam Boyce managed to shake off an injury concern to return to the starting line-up. Shane Ferguson and Josh Magennis dropped to the bench.
Eldar Civic and Ervin Zukanovic came back into the Serbia defence in place of Emilijus Zubas and Darko Todorovic while Toni Sunjic, Elvis Saric and Muhamed Besic also started. Haris Duljevic returned in place of Goran Zakaric.
Northern Ireland were fortunate not to concede a second almost immediately as Dzeko’s brilliant volley from Pjanic’s clever free-kick was ruled out for offside, before the Juventus midfielder himself went close with a brilliant free-kick that flashed just over Bailey Peacock-Farrell’s crossbar.
The Leeds ‘keeper smothered the ball at Dzeko’s feet after he was found by Muhamed Besic 11 minutes into the second half, but the visitors should’ve hauled themselves level when substitute Gavin Whyte met Stuart Dallas’ cross to fire his shot at the second attempt against the post from close range.
O’Neill made a bold substitution in replacing Paddy McNair with striker Kyle Vassell, but Bosnia instantly doubled their lead as Pjanic’s long ball found Dzeko with time and space to crash home his 55th goal for his country.
Whyte’s cross then deflected off Ervin Zukanovic onto the post in stoppage time to sum up Norther Ireland’s misfortune on another frustrating night.
Man of the match – Edin Dzeko
“The difference between the two sides tonight was a world class striker,” said Sky Sports pundit Neil Lennon, and he wasn’t wrong.
Northern Ireland were without Kyle Lafferty, Conor Washington and Will Grigg. It proved too much for the visitors as O’Neill’s men were unable to find the net away from home once more.
Dzeko’s movement oozed class all night as he peeled off Dallas to tuck in his second and end the contest to make it six goals in four games for club and country.
- Bosnia are unbeaten in their last eight matches in all competitions, winning five and drawing three.
- Northern Ireland are winless in their last six away matches in all competitions, failing to score a single goal in that run (D2 L4).
- Two of Northern Ireland’s three shots on target in this match came in the final five minutes.
- Bosnia’s Edin Dzeko had seven shots in this match – at least three more than any other player.
- Dzeko has been directly involved in seven goals in his last six competitive appearances for Bosnia (5 goals, 2 assists).
Michael O’Neill said: “We had chances at critical times in the game. We should’ve been ahead 1-0, arguably 2-0 to be honest, because George (Saville)’s chance in the first half is a really good one.
“You’re punished for a mistake. A young player makes an error in the wrong area of the pitch, and that’s why Dzeko is the player that he is, he punishes you.
“We have a chance to go level when Gavin (Whyte) hits the post, and we were punished again when we were pushing forward. It’s a steep learning curve for us.”
Neil Lennon said: “Northern Ireland were creators of their own downfall. Jamal’s in a great position… he can either go back to the goalkeeper or clear it.
“He slips and to be fair to Visca, he sees the mistake and it’s a lovely cushioned pass to Dzeko. You can’t legislate for young players slipping over and you get punished at that level.”
Northern Ireland host Austria in the Nations League on Sunday, November 18, live on Sky Sports Football, three days after Bosnia have travelled to face Austria in the competition.