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BBC NI's Jackie Fullerton talks to Sammy McIlroy:
"Our defending was non-existent"
 real 56k

banner Wednesday, 28 March, 2001, 17:03 GMT 18:03 UK
NI beaten by Bulgaria
Neil Lennon takes on Radostin Kishishev
Neil Lennon takes on Bulgaria's Radostin Kishishev
Bulgaria 4-3 Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland lost their third successive World Cup qualifier despite scoring three goals in Sofia.

Sammy McIlroy's team just failed to snatch a draw with a dramatic late rally.

Bulgaria led 4-1 with seven minutes remaining before the Irish staged a late fightback.

Stuart Elliott netted his first international goal in the 83rd minute and then, in stoppage time, David Healy scored his sixth international goal to set up a tense finale.

Slack backpass

But that should not be allowed to mask what was a shocking defensive display from Northern Ireland.

They were at fault for all four of Bulgaria's goals and the scoreline did not reflect the home side's superiority for long stretches in the game.

Northern Ireland needed to make a solid start to have any chance of leaving CSKA Sofia's Balgarska Armia's stadium with anything.

However, for the third successive match they shot themselves in their well-peppered foot to concede an early goal.

Jim Magilton
Jim Magilton guilty of slack backpass

Skipper Jim Magilton gave away possession with a slack backpass to put the Irish defence in trouble.

Marian Hristov laid the ball off for Krassimir Balakov, who burst into the box and went down under a challenge from Colin Murdock.

Balakov picked himself up to slot home the opening goal.

Back came Northern Ireland and in the 15th minute Mark Williams headed them level with his first international goal on his 16th appearance.

Michael Hughes swung over a corner from the left and Williams powered the ball home from six yards out.

Northern Ireland's joy was shortlived and two minutes later the Bulgarians went back in front.

The visitors failed to deal with an attack down the left and when the ball fell to Martin Petrov he scored from around 14 yards out with a low shot into the far corner.

Michael Hughes almost netted an equaliser after a great tackle by Keith Gillespie.

Drilled home

Hughes' corner on the left was only half cleared and Gillespie won possession in a crunching challenge to lay the ball back out to the Wimbledon winger.

Hughes skipped past one defender before his shot was saved by Bulgarian goalkeeper Zdravko Zdravkov.

Tchomakov scored their third after 72 minutes when he drilled home a free-kick from around 35 yards out.

Five minutes later it was 4-1 when the unmarked Petrov volleyed in his second at the back post.

Danny Griffin
NI's Danny Griffin climbs to win the ball in Sofia

From this impossible situation, Northern Ireland launched their dogged comeback.

First a Hughes shot was deflected high into the air and Elliott reacted first to head the ball into the net for his first international goal.

The drama was not over yet and in the 90th minute, Healy won a penalty off Biser Ivanov and converted the spot-kick for his sixth goal on his 10th international appearance.

It was first time the Irish had scored three goals away from home in a competitive match, but it counted for nothing because of their shoddy defending.

Defeat effectively signals the end of Northern Ireland's distant hopes of qualifying for the 2002 World Cup, but McIlroy will be more annoyed by his side's performance at the back.

Bulgaria: Zdravkov, Kishishev, Pazhin, Markov, Tchomakov, Biser Ivanov, Hristov, Petkov, Balakov, Berbatov, Martin Petrov.

Subs: Ivankov, Kirilov, Svetsolav Petrov, Stoilov, Todorov, Georgi Ivanov, Peev.

Northern Ireland: Carroll, Griffin, Mark Williams, Murdock, Nolan, Gillespie, Lennon, Magilton, Elliott, Michael Hughes, Healy.

Subs: Taylor, Kennedy, Gray, Johnson, McCarthy, Ferguson, Kirk.

Referee: V Hrinak (Slovakia).

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See also:

28 Mar 01 |  World Cup 2002
Clockwatch: Bulgaria 4-3 Northern Ireland
28 Mar 01 |  World Cup 2002
Hughes ruled out of Sofia clash
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