Northern Ireland went to the top of World Cup qualifying Group Three following a 3-2 win against Poland.
Artur Boruc and the Polish defense produced an error-ridden display that enabled Northern Ireland to dislodge Slovakia at the summit of the table.
Warren Feeney saw his early goal snuffed out by Ireneusz Jelen by half time before Jonny Evans restored the home side’s lead and Boruc then provided memories of Paul Robinson’s howler in Croatia a few years ago, with a fresh air kick which trundled into Poland’s net to award Michal Zewlakow with an unfortunate own goal.
The Poles made a fight of it with substitute Marek Saganowski's brave header in stoppage-time to ensure a nervy final few minutes at Windsor Park.
The Home side went at Poland from the start, and they warmed up for their opening goal with two close shaves before finding the bullseye.
Northern Ireland crafted the first chance with a long through pass falling into the path of Feeney, who raced into the Polish penalty box before unleashing a shot which went across the goal and wide of the target.
Poland again looked jittery at the back when Healy latched on to a terrible attempt at a back-pass to Boruc, and from a tight angle, the striker went for goal only for the keeper to make the save and a defender to hack the ball clear.
Minutes later and the deadlock was broken. Chris Brunt delivered a looping cross to the far post where Boruc found himself in a pickle as he raced towards Damien Johnson, who simply passed the ball across to Feeney for a tap-in to give Northern Ireland the lead in the 10th-minute.
A fast tempo from Nigel Worthington’s side enabled them to bypass Poland’s playmaker Mariusz Lewandowski, as Sammy Clingan and Grant McCann regularly fed the wide marauders Brunt and Johnson.
Polish coach Leo Beenhakker looked an irate figure on the touchline as he assimilated the data from an unwelcome score-line, but the Dutchman’s angst did not last for too long as his charges scored with their first effort on goal in the 27th-minute.
There was nothing fancy about the goal, with route one written all over it, as Jelen latched on to a defense-splitting pass and raced clear before unleashing a shot which Maik Taylor, at his near post, could only get a weak left glove to and fail to deflect its course away from goal.
This enthralling match had a lengthy stoppage for treatment to assistant referee Stefan Wittberg, who was allegedly hit by a coin thrown from a section of the crowd.
The Polish central defensive unit were creaking their way through this game and Michal Zewlakow and Dariusz Dudka were finding themselves, on a number of occasions, attempting to atone for defensive blunders.
Northern Ireland made sure they pressurized the Poles again following the interval and from McCann’s corner in the 47th-minute, Evans ghosted into the six-yard box before applying a neat finish with the outside of a boot to restore the home nation’s lead.
With so much riding on this match, the referee waited until the second half to dish out the first yellow card, which Brunt received for a clumsy lunge on Jacek Krzynowek.
Boruc was left red faced again when Michal Zewlakow’s back pass took a bobble and missed the swinging right leg of the goalkeeper to go straight into the net for an unfortunate own goal to make it 3-1.
Northern Ireland then went close to adding a fourth goal when Gareth McAuley sent a header just over the crossbar following McCann’s delivery from a corner.
Beenhakker tried to arrest this slide from grace with a bout of substitutions and from one of these, new arrival Saganowski climbed well at the far post to send his header just wide to remind Northern Ireland that the job was not done.
The same player then gave Poland hope with a diving header from a curling cross to find the bottom right corner of the net in the 90th-minute but the time was up for the visitors to engineer a dramatic comeback.
Moving to Ireland
After living in Ireland for almost one year, this is what I’ve learned