Cheat Sheet: A change was as good as rest for Northern Ireland as they beat Ukraine


Gareth McAuley and Niall McGinn scored to deliver Northern Ireland's first European Championship finals victory as they kept alive their last-16 hopes with a 2-0 success over Ukraine in Lyon.

Experienced West Brom defender McAuley planted home a header from Oliver Norwood's brilliant free-kick in the second half before McGinn struck in stoppage time as Michael O'Neill's selection gambles paid off.

A team missing Kyle Lafferty, one of five changes from the defeat to Poland, now faces reigning world champions Germany in Paris next week knowing they could still progress to the knock-out rounds.

The game in one line

Northern Ireland celebrate beating Ukraine
(Michael Sohn/AP)

Fortune favours the brave.

Key moments

Michael O'Neill on the Northern Ireland bench
(Jonathan Brady/PA)

1. Before the match even started, there was a big moment, as Northern Ireland coach Michael O'Neill made the decision to make sweeping changes to both the formation and personnel of his team. Fair to say it worked.

2. Oliver Norwood put the ball on a plate from a free-kick on the left to Gareth McAuley, who guided the ball inside the far post. A great header from the West Brom defender - but it was all about that delivery from Norwood.

Gareth McAuley celebrates scoring for Northern Ireland
(Jonathan Brady/PA)

3. Just before the hour mark, referee Pavel Kralovec decided he'd had enough of the weather which was, to say the least, inclement. He took the players off the pitch for a few minutes, allowing everyone to catch their breath and change their soaking wet shirts, before the rain and hail eased off a bit.

4. Northern Irish hearts were in mouths when six minutes of stoppage time were signalled, but they needn't have worried. It just gave them time to score a second, with Niall McGinn tapping in after Stuart Dallas' effort was saved by Andriy Pyatov. Game over.

Was it the right result?

Northern Ireland fans cheer on their side
(Pavel Golovkin/AP)

You bet it was. Ukraine rarely threatened. And although Northern Ireland's passing was all over the place at times, they had by far the better of the opportunities. Great stuff.

Tactics check

Michael O'Neill on the sidelines with Northern Ireland
(Nick Potts/PA)

O'Neill made five changes to his formation, dropping Lafferty and switching to a 4-3-3 formation. It was a more attacking line-up and that seemed to give them more belief. If they looked like they weren't sure they deserved to be there when they lost to Poland in the opener, they stamped themselves all over this one.

Weather watch

Weather at the Northern Ireland-Ukraine match
(Jonathan Brady/PA)

Hail on the pitch as Northern Ireland take on Ukraine
(Nick Potts/PA)

Torrential rain, huge hailstones and a break for "adverse weather conditions". Why not? Football is a winter sport after all.

Will Grigg check

Despite Lafferty's absence, there was still no sign of everyone's favourite combustible striker. Needless to say, that didn't stop the fans singing about him.

Fans of the day

Northern Ireland fans in Belfast
(Brian Lawless/PA)

The weather in Belfast wasn't a whole lot better than it was in Lyon, but the locals were still out in force at the official fan zone - even if they didn't seem to be enjoying it all that much.

Stat of the game

Northern Ireland's improvement was summed up perfectly by that stat, but in truth there's only one that mattered - Ireland won their first game at a major tournament since 1982.

What next?

Bastian Schweinsteiger celebrates scoring for Germany
(Frank Augstein/AP)

Northern Ireland have the daunting task of trying to get something out of a game with world champions Germany if they want to finish in the top two. That's in Paris on Tuesday - and after this result, they'll surely believe they have just the faintest chance. Ukraine will take on Poland at the same time.