Michael O’Neill and his Northern Ireland side endured a frustrating night at Windsor Park tonight when they suffered a controversial 1 – 0 defeat to Switzerland in the first leg of their World Cup playoff.
With the referee coming under serious flack for a number of dubious decisions that the home fans will certainly insist were favourable to the visiting team, the Northern Irish found themselves a goal down just before the hour mark.
Turning away from the volley of Xherdan Shaqiri, Corey Evans was struck in the shoulder by the ball from about five yards.
Incredibly, the referee pointed to the spot, issued a yellow card to Evans, before Ricardo Rodriguez duly took his chance and sent keeper Michael McGowan the wrong way.
Watched this back a few times from a few angles.
Arms down ✅
Arms in ✅
Unnatural position ❌
— Christopher James (@ChrisJames_90) November 9, 2017
#Switzerland 🇨🇭 were the better side, as #NorthernIreland ☘️ sat back defensively at home, but they only had 2 shots on target. Ricardo Rodriguez's clinical penalty was the decisive away goal. #NIRSUI #UEFA #WCQ #Playoff pic.twitter.com/35T6K7YxqW
— Jason Foster (@JogaBonitoUSA) November 9, 2017
The incident sparked a furious reaction from the home fans, with the referee taking some serious flack for his decision.
— Daniel Gallagher (@Dannyg034) November 9, 2017
Northern Ireland have just been robbed. They should be up against 10 men. So many bad decisions. In 10 years I bet loads of refs will be done for match fixing. A joke. #NIRSUI
— Andrew Ryan (@AndrewRyan_) November 9, 2017
This ref is a DISGRACE !!!!!!!@NorthernIreland
— BIG MAC (@iainmcquillan) November 9, 2017
The ref in this Northern Ireland game is having an absolute shocker!! 🙈🙈 How can he get the early tackle and penalty decisions wrong!!
— John Crabb (@JohnCrabb3) November 9, 2017
With Northern Ireland pushing for the equaliser, a tense moment late on saw a tangle in the Switzerland box but, alas, nothing came from the home side’s endeavours.
It must be said, however, that despite the home side’s frustrations at the referee tonight, they can have no retort to claims that they were second best.
Switzerland always appeared more likely to break the deadlock and even though it came as a result of the harsh decision on Evans, the visitors were deserving winners.
Northern Ireland must now do it the hard way if they wish to qualify for their second consecutive major championship finals, following the Euro 2016 adventures last year.
Based on the performance of the two sides tonight, it will certainly be an uphill struggle. The Irish, northern or otherwise, love to be the underdog, however, and qualifying against the odds would make it sweeter.
Here’s hoping they can pull it off on Sunday.