By Gerry Walton
Northern Ireland women pulled off a massive upset, beating Norway 3-1 in a hard-fought Group Three encounter at Mourneview Park, Lurgan.
The hosts were outplayed from the start by their Norwegian opponents, but went in at the break 2-0 up, with Kirsty McGuiness scoring after 17 minutes, and Ashley Hutton doubling the lead after 44 minutes.
Norway got back into the game with a 60th minute goal by Isabell Herlovsen, before Northern Ireland wrapped up the three points in the 74th minute through Rachel Furness.
Catherine O’Hagan was sent off late on for Northern Ireland after a high challenge, but they held out for a valuable three points in their quest for Euro 2013 qualification.
Around 300 fans were in attendance to see the Northern Irish, ranked 64th in the world, take on the former European champions, who are ranked 12th, and the side were fired up from the start with some fiery challenges.
Norway were dominant in possession, but not creating much, when Northern Ireland took the lead on the counter attack in the 17th minute.
Left-winger Kirsty McGuiness struck a heavily-deflected left foot shot which wrong-footed Ingrid Hjelmseth in the Norwegian goal.
In response, Norway upped the tempo and intensity, forcing several corners and one fantastic point-blank save from goalkeeper Emma Higgins after an Ingvild Isaksen shot.
Despite this, Northern Ireland made it 2-0 a minute before the break with their only attack since the first goal.
Centre-back Ashley Hutton headed in at the back post from a Kirsty McGuiness corner, leaving Northern Ireland manager Alfie Wylie with an undoubtedly easy team talk.
In the second half, Norway resumed their assault on the Northern Irish goal, with some good passing and movement.
However, Norway lacked a cutting edge, with some wayward finishing on show. Marita Lund shot wide from close range.
The corners began to mount up for Norway, with Northern Ireland happy to sit back.
On the hour mark, Norway halved the deficit, with Isabell Herlovsen finishing low into the right-hand corner.
Norway’s passing got increasingly more loose as they tried to chase the game, with keeper Hjelmseth’s clearances giving Northern Ireland an occasional platform to attack.
Despite Norway’s attempts to level the scores, forward Rachel Furness made the game safe for Northern Ireland in the 74th minute with a close-range effort after her first shot was blocked.
In the 88th minute, Catherine O’Hagan was sent off for a second bookable offence after a high challenge, leaving Northern Ireland down to 10 men.
However, it was too late for Norway to take advantage, as Northern Ireland leapfrogged them into third place, ahead of their trip to Hungary on Wednesday.