BELFAST (Reuters/UEFA)–Northern Ireland’s goal drought reached a record 12 games on Wednesday as they suffered a humiliating 1-0 defeat to Armenia at their home stadium in Windsor Park.
The 8,600 people in attendance saw Northern Ireland surpass Liechtenstein’s record of 11 consecutive international matches without a goal–which puts them in grave danger of finishing Group Six of the United European Football Association (UEFA) Euro 2004 Tournament without a win or a goal as they travel to Greece for their final game.
The defeat ensures that Northern Ireland will finish at the bottom of the five-team group–with Armenia in fourth place with seven points in seven matches–four points above Northern Ireland. Both teams have one game remaining–with Armenia facing second-place Spain on October 11 and Northern Ireland facing the group leader–Greece.
Coach Sammy McIlroy–who has watched his team fail to score for 1,152 consecutive minutes–remained defiant but admitted that the long goal drought is beginning to affect his players.
"I would love to know what more we have to do to score a goal," he said. "I don’t know how we didn’t win this game; I am devastated."
"If we weren’t creating chances then it would really be a problem–but we had a few chances; their keeper made some great saves," added McIlroy. "The lads were prepared for this game–but the ball refused to go into the net."
The home team came close to breaking the deadlock only ten minutes into the match–but forward Andy Smith could not direct Keith Gillespie’s excellent cross into the net–thus wasting an early chance.
Northern Ireland almost ended their scoring drought later in the match when David Healy came close to capitalizing on a mistake by the Armenian defenseman–Tudor-Marian Zeciu. Healy intercepted Zeciu’s header back to his goalkeeper–but the Northern Ireland striker could only find the side of the net with his one-time effort.
The only goal of the match came on a counterattack by Armenia in the 29th minute. The visiting team raced down the right flank–catching the Northern Ireland defense by surprise; Northern Ireland goalkeeper Maik Taylor could do nothing to stop the powerful shot by Arman Karamyan–who was a 12th minute substitute for the injured Artur Petrosyan–connecting on Yeghishe Melikyan’s low right-wing cross.
Northern Ireland came close once again when striker Steve Jones almost gave the Windsor Park fans something to shout about after a strong solo run ended with him producing a fierce shot that Armenian goalkeeper Roman Berezovski did well to deflect on to the crossbar.
Berezovski was unbeatable in net. He was the savior for Armenia again when he pounced on a Jones header before it crossed the goal line–after an excellent centering pass from Healy.
The Armenian goalkeeper played at a very high level and his performance secured three points for the tournament standings–but more importantly–a valuable win for the future of Armenian soccer.