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Wednesday, 21 August, 2002, 21:04 GMT 22:04 UK
Frustration for Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland's Damien Johnson (right) and Cyprus defender Petros Fon in action at Windsor Park
Damien Johnson (right) tussles with Petros Fon
Northern Ireland 0-0 Cyprus

There was no winning start for stand-in skipper Mark Williams as Northern Ireland played out a disappointing draw with Cyprus at Windsor Park on Wednesday.

The Wimbledon defender was given the captain's armband for the first time after the shock withdrawal of Celtic's Neil Lennon following an alleged death threat earlier in the day.

But while Lennon's departure would make the headlines and left a surreal atmosphere around the ground, the shell-shocked fans did their best to give Williams and his team plenty of encouragement.

And it could have been so different when Williams thought he had given his side the lead with a first-half effort in the 20th minute.

But Peter Kennedy's free kick had been taken too quickly for the referee.

Celtic midfielder Neil Lennon was due to captain Northern Ireland
Lennon's absence cast a cloud over the evening

Lennon's late withdrawal forced manager Sammy McIlroy into some quick surgery, with Colin Murdoch coming off the bench to start in his place.

The Preston midfielder tried to take his chance, and on one occasion wriggled free from his shadow, but his header from Keith Gillespie's corner but was just off target.

James Quinn was the first to cheer the fans when he sent in a rasping 25-yard volley in the eighth minute, which goalkeeper Nikos Panayiotou touched over the bar.

Kevin Horlock was the next to try his luck but again the Cyprus keeper was alert as the Irish began to over-run the visitors.

Cyprus threatened only briefly and without much menace. Maik Taylor had only one worthwhile save to make in the opening half.

Preston's Colin Healy had a couple of chances in the opening period, but after making space found fluffed his final attempts.

Quinn, now playing his football in Holland, had another chance to put the Irish ahead in the 40th minute when he had plenty of time to convert Gillespie's cross, but saw a tame head easily gathered by Panayiotou.

Gillespie looked like the man to turn the game in the home side's favour with his willingness to take players on.

Sting in tail

The Blackburn winger, winning his 42nd cap, was the most senior figure in the side, and became increasingly influential.

The match flared up in the 65th minute when Williams objected to Marios Agathokleous backing into him.

He appeared to push his opponent to the floor and both men were booked as a result.

Damien Johnson should have put the Irish ahead in the 67th minute but Panayiotou denied him with a superb double save.

And Cyrpus nearly found an unlikely sting in their tail as twice Taylor had to look sharp to deny the visitors.


Northern Ireland: Taylor, Griffin, Murdock, Williams, McCartney, Kennedy, Gillespie, Johnson, Healy, Quinn, Horlock. Subs: Ingham, Duff, McCann, Feeney, Robinson.

Cyprus: Panayiotou, Konnafis, Spyrou, Dasalakis, Nikolaou, Okkarides, Theodotou, Elefteriou, Ioannios Okkas, Satsias, Yiasoumi. Subs: Siimitras, Agathocleous, Michael, Christodoulou, Nicolaou, Kaiafas.

Referee: S Jones (Wales).

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
BBC Sport's David Oates
"Given the circumstances the scoreline is irrelevant"
New Northern Ireland captain Mark Williams
''Difficult circumstances to take over from Neil''
Northern Ireland boss Sammy McIlroy
''Some of their tactics were ridiculous''
All the international action

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