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BBC Sport's Ron Jones
"A sloppy game that was made desperately difficult by the blustery wind"
 real 14k

banner Saturday, 2 June, 2001, 16:00 GMT 17:00 UK
Northern Ireland beaten again
Colin Murdock and Georgi Ivanov
Colin Murdock battles with goalscorer Georgi Ivanov
Northern Ireland 0-1 Bulgaria

Northern Ireland suffered their fourth successive defeat in the current World Cup qualifying campaign when a Georgi Ivanov goal earned Bulgaria victory in Belfast.

The Irish produced a promising first half performance but the home team's defensive frailties were exposed when Ivanov outpaced Colin Murdock to drill home the winner on 51 minutes.

Krasimir Balakov lofted a long ball into space but instead of attacking the ball Murdock attempted in vain to fend off Ivanov and the Bulgarian gleefully punished the mistake.

Buoyed by the goal, the Bulgarians largely controlled the contest thereafter.

At the start, Fulham's Maik Taylor had displaced Roy Carroll to make his first appearance since August after a number of errors by the Wigan goalkeeper.

The Bulgarians began well, stroking the ball about nicely.

Keith Gillespie (left)
Keith Gillespie attempts to go on a run

However, the first chance of the match fell to Stuart Elliott in the sixth minute but the Motherwell player failed to connect properly with a fine deep cross from Keith Gillespie.

Colin Murdock conceded an early penalty in Bulgaria's 4-3 victory in March and it was nearly a case of deja vu when the Preston centre-half challenged Georgi Ivanov in the 12th minute.

The Bulgarian went down claiming a penalty, but referee Massimo Busacca ignored his appeals to the relief of Murdock and his team-mates.

At the other end, Elliott forced a great save from Zdravko Zdravkov in the 17th minute after the Motherwell midfielder had been released on the left by Damien Johnson.

The Bulgarians were forced to make the first change midway through the half when Georgi Peev replaced the injured Charlton wing-back Radostin Kishishev.

The Irish were holding their own after their traumatic defeat in Sofia and Johnson was catching the eye in the middle of the park.

Danny Griffin was also solid during the first period in his favourite position of centre-half alongside Murdock.

Lennon booked

Bulgaria still looked dangerous and Milen Petkov weaved inside Johnson before driving narrowly wide of Taylor's goal in the 28th minute.

There was some ill feeling lingering over from the teams' last meeting in March and Gillespie and Petkov briefly squared up to each other after a challenge by the Blackburn winger.

The Irish suffered a blow after 35 minutes when Neil Lennon was booked for kicking the ball away.

It was the Celtic midfielder's second caution of the campaign and rules him out of Wednesday's match against the Czech Republic.

Michael Hughes and Predrag Pazhin
Michael Hughes battles with Predrag Pazhin

A late booking for Keith Gillespie in the second half also means that he will miss Wednesday's clash.

Lone striker David Healy came close to ending the first half on a high for the Irish when he volleyed wide from Elliott's deep left-wing cross in the 43rd minute.

After Ivanov's goal, Elliott wasted a glorious chance to equalise with a close-range header in the 66th minute.

The Motherwell player was totally unmarked from Gillespie's floated corner but the header was straight at the Bulgarian goalkeeper Zdravkov.

Northern Ireland huffed and puffed in the closing minutes without seriously threatening the visitors.

In fact Ivanov nearly scored his second goal of the day with Taylor forced to make a great save three minutes from time.

After the final whistle, Northern Ireland manager Sammy McIlrory ushered his players to the centre circle and appeared to dish out something of a dressing-down to his beaten team.

Northern Ireland: Taylor, Aaron Hughes, Griffin, Murdock, Nolan, Elliott, Johnson, Lennon, Gillespie, Michael Hughes, Healy. Subs: Carroll, Mulryne, Ferguson, James Quinn, Kennedy, McCartney.

Bulgaria: Zdravkov, Pazhin, Markov, Biser Ivanov, Petkov, Hristov, Tchomakov, Balakov, Kishishev, Martin Petrov, Georgi Ivanov. Subs: Peev, Svetsolav Petrov, Stoilov, Todorov, Ivankov, Kirilov, Berbatov. Referee: Massimo Busacca (Switzerland).

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See also:

02 Jun 01 |  World Cup 2002
Clockwatch: Northern Ireland 0-1 Bulgaria
02 Jun 01 |  World Cup 2002
NI's double ban blow
02 Jun 01 |  World Cup 2002
World Cup round-up
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