1990 World Cup Qualification
UEFA – Group 6
Video: First half, second half
Windsor Park, Belfast
Att.: 19,873
Wed. 14 September 1988
Kick-off: 8.00pm
Ref.: Michel Vautrot (FRA)
L 1: Jean-Marie Lartigot (FRA)
L 2: Michel Girard (FRA)


This was the third encounter ever between the two Irish sides (the last being in 1979). Northern Ireland were pushing for a third consecutive WC tournament and the Rep. of Ireland were vying for their first participation. The match received massive attention, and FIFA appointed no other than Michel Vautrot to officiate it.

N. Ireland team news

Robbie Dennison had impressed on N. Ireland’s left flank against Malta, but was replaced by Kingsley Black, the Luton starlet. Otherwise N. Ireland were unchanged. Norman Whiteside was still sidelined with an injury, and it didn’t look promising for his future participation. Bingham had now included McCreery among the reserves, bringing some experience to the squad, which still was in the process of being rebuilt.

Rep. of Ireland team news

This was the first match for the Republic since they exited the group stage in the 1988 Euros. The two changes in the team since the loss against Netherlands signaled a rejuvenation: Cascarino for Stapleton (currently without club) and Sheedy for Galvin. Packie Bonner was injured (back) and so Gerry Peyton stepped in as goalkeeper to make his 25th cap, with Kelham O’Hanlon draftet in as reserve goalkeeper. Stapleton and Galvin were not even on the bench, neither was John Byrne, and their attacking options would be David Kelly and Niall Quinn. Charlton’s had organized a team much as expected, in a 4-4-2 where McGrath was the holding midfielder.


Referee was Frenchman Michel Vautrot, considered to be one of the very best in the business. 42 years of age he had a bundle of experience, having refereed two matches in the Spain World Cup back in ’82, as well as a host of qualifiers and international friendlies since then. For one reason or another he had not been officiating in the 1986 World Cup. 

Photo below: Paul McGrath getting a tackle in on Michael O’Neill, with Danny Wilson the nearest on-looker.

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Northern Ireland (4-4-2)

1 Allen McKnight24West Ham
2 Mal Donaghysub h-t31Luton
3 Nigel Worthington26Sheffield Wednesday
4 John McClelland (c)32Watford
5 Alan McDonald 3′25QPR
6 Danny Wilson28Sheffield Wednesday
7 Steve Penney24Brighton
8 Jimmy Quinn29Leicester
9 Colin Clarke25Southampton
10 Michael O’Neill19Newcastle
11 Kingsley Black20Luton

12 Phil Hughes24Wigan
13 Anton Roganon h-t22Celtic
14 David McCreery31Newcastle
15 Robbie Dennison25Wolverhampton
16 Kevin Wilson27Chelsea
Manager: Billy Bingham

Rep of Ireland (4-1-3-2)

1 Gerry Peyton32Bournemouth
2 Chris Morris24Celtic
3 Chris Hughton29Tottenham
4 Mick McCarthy29Celtic
5 Kevin Moran (c)32Sporting Gijón
6 Paul McGrath28Manchester United
7 Ronnie Whelan 59′26Liverpool
8 Ray Houghton26Liverpool
9 John Aldridge29Liverpool
10 Tony Cascarino26Millwall
11 Kevin Sheedy28Everton

12 John Anderson28Newcastle
13 David Kelly23West Ham
14 Niall Quinn21Arsenal
15 Liam O’Brien24Newcastle
16 Kelham O’Hanlon26Preston
Manager: Jackie Charlton

Tactical line-ups

Both were playing their version of 4-4-2, with the home side using two more or less similar type of central midfielders, both Wilson and O’Neill willing to push forward, although it was probably the latter who had been given the more restrictive instructions by the manager. Penney had a ‘game of two halves’, where he was busy during the first 45 minutes and rather pale after the break. It was the home side’s big defender Alan McDonald who would look after Tony Cascarino, and the battle between the two was a keenly contested affair throughout. McClelland saw to Aldridge, but in fairness it seemed a rather easy task in comparison to that of McDonald. Aldridge’s not yet come to terms with Charlton’s brand of football, and his performance left a lot to be desired. Down the other end Southampton man Clarke would be battling it out with Moran, with Quinn often dropping slightly deeper and thus avoiding direct confrontation with the two Irish central defenders. McGrath was acting as a shield in front of his defence. Houghton liked to come in field from his wide right position.


First half:
The perhaps foremost problem in Jackie Charlton’s team had for a time been the inability of John Aldridge to find a goal in the green shirt. Bizarrely, the Liverpool dangerman had yet to score for the Republic. Tony Cascarino only made his 8th cap but already looked the more prolific striker of the two. The match had not even settled before a header from the Millwall forward (following a free-kick) hit the inside of the post. Did it cross the line? Monsieur Vautrot said no. Cascarino brought his terrific form with Milwall into this match, and seemed to create chances in all kinds of ways: For example when he got away from Donaghy to send in a cross from the byline which Aldridge could not control. Besides using Cascarino as a target man,  the Republic could also rely on long throw-ins from Mick McCarthy. With these two weapons, it was Charlton’s team that put the hosts under pressure in the opening phase.

The Republic had made the better start, but it didn’t take too long before N. Ireland managed to find their foot in the game. In fact, the hosts would see more of the ball than the Republic in the first half, but the game itself was mainly characterized by quick exchanges between the two defences as well as endless midfield battles. This could possibly have led to a high tempo game, hadn’t it been for the whistle happy Mr Vautrot, who chose a restrictive line, effectively ruining the flow of the game.

The Ulstermen looked to attack down the right hand side. Their standard move was to try and find targetman Colin Clarke, the right sided of the two strikers, who had some luck with laying the ball off for his midfielders (particularly for Danny Wilson, who often shuttled forward or got stuck in for the loose balls). Right winger Steve Penney also had a few probing runs down his flank. Even if they didn’t create any real chances from open play, it all seemed to happen on this right hand side for the Ulstermen. By comparison, the left hand side was all quiet: Youngster O’Neill was too easily dispossessed and Black didn’t even see the ball until more than 20 minutes of play had gone. Colin Clarke was enjoying a good game up top, shielding the ball efficiently and winning headers. He was a major asset for N. Ireland, and gave them the opportunity to establish play high up in the pitch. His partner Jimmy Quinn had been ‘man of the match’ against Malta, but met far better opponents here in Moran and McCarthy, and especially on the ground he didn’t look like replicating what he had done against the Mediterranean islanders.

It wasn’t an easy match for any midfielder, as the ball probably spent more time in the air than on the ground. Cascarino and Clarke fought admirably on top, having a good tussle with McDonald and Moran. There was however little for the midfielders to work with. While Danny Wilson was the most busy of the homeside’s midfielders, Ronnie Whelan probably was more involved than his teammates in the Irish midfield, although there was little seen of the quality that we usually expect when he is in the Liverpool shirt. Houghton was unusually quiet, having little to work with, and Sheedy mainly contributed with keeping the balance on the left side (showing good work rate).

The two goal scoring opportunities that fell to N. Ireland in the first half, both came from free-kicks (and both were produced on the right hand side). The two were almost identicial. The first opportunity was a Jimmy Quinn header on a cross swung in from Mal Donaghy, with the ball just drifting wide of the far post. The second opportunity was almost identical, but bigger: Colin Clarke once again used his strength and aereal ability to steer the ball towards the far post. Only a great save by Gerry Peyton denied Clarke from giving the Ulstermen the lead just on the stroke of halftime.

Second half:
Bingham had to make a change at half-time, Anton Rogan replacing the injured Mal Donaghy at right back. The home side would kick off through Clarke and Quinn, and they would be attacking the Spion Kop in the second half. The breeze would favour the visitors for the closing 45 minutes.

Once again the Republic showed their intent from kick-off, establishing a firm grip of the game. The best chance of the game came a few minutes into the second half, and was produced by two Liverpool players. A cleared header fell into the feet of Ronnie Whelan who with his vision expertly played through a Ray Houghton shuttling forward from his right midfield position. Houghton’s initial shot was well parried by McKnight, the second, after Houghton himself had picked up the rebound, cleared off the line by O’Neill. It was a good example of the intuitive Liverpool connection and Charlton’s direct style of play, winning back possession and immediately attack again.

Despite the Republic having the early upper hand in the second half, N. Ireland would occasionally strike back with dangerous crossing. Colin Clarke made his presence felt, and won a fair share of the headers. What was lacking, however, was some support from behind, from O’Neill and, in the second half, also from D. Wilson. Perhaps the two started to tire from the high tempo the match was played in.

Houghton’s clever runs was a feature of this second half, as he started to cut inside and wander from right to left. This made both him and the team better. Eire were thriving on Houghton’s inverted wing play, and he would even seek to bring Sheedy into action, coming as far across as to the Everton man’s territory. Sheedy’s trusted left foot would as always be used to whip crosses in, in big McDonald the home side had someone who matched the Millwall striker in the air. Little came off any high ball into the Northern Irish box. 

This was a physical contest of extreme intensity – a game that both teams knew how to play. It was sporting rivalry at its best, combined with fair play and the crowd making the ground a hostile place for the visitors. Even young Rogan, the Celtic full-back, had been met with some less than pleasant shouts from the home supporters upon his introduction. However, he showed maturity beyond his tender years as he replied his doubters with a second half performance that would more or less neutralize Sheedy. At the opposite end down the same flank, Penney was having a difficult second period, seeing very little of the ball. The Northern Irish left-wing, however, enjoyed a more fruitful final 45: Young Kingsley Black got the better of Morris at times, and even if his crosses may not have reached the heads of Clarke or Quinn, it was important that Ulster managed to employ the visiting defence in order to relieve some of the pressure against their own defenders. 

Young Michael O’Neill, who had done well against Malta in Northern Ireland’s opener, again showed glimpses of his quality, and he only seemed to get better and more involved the further the match progressed. By the end of the game, it was fair to say he was the dominant home player from midfield and forward. He ran himself into the ground, and managed to keep hold of the ball in tight situations. 

One second half booking: Ronnie Whelan went in hard on O’Neill, and despite not awarding an instant free-kick, the referee showed the midfield maestro the yellow card once play came to a halt. It was a fair enough decision. 

The visitors might have shaded the game over all, but a point was definitely not unworthy of the home side, who fought very well until the end. They defended doggedly, and would never allow the Republic time on the ball. They matched their neighbours physically, and both teams gave as good as they got. At times the pace was frantic, and perhaps it could be said that the match lived up to its pre-game billing. Mr Vautrot might not have had his best ever game, but he did seem more lenient during the second half, and allowed the game to flow rather well. Both sides will have been relatively pleased to gain a point from a tricky fixture. 


1. McKnight 7.0
Assured display.
2. Donaghy 6.8
Takes a knock very early in the game, but puts in a decent performance.
(13. Rogan 6.9
started with a couple of useful interceptions to give him confidence, and went on to keep Sheedy in check for most of the second half.)
3. Worthington 6.7
Makes some spectacular back-passes to McKnight.
4. McClelland 6.9
Is in full control of Aldridge.
5. McDonald 6.7
great aerial tussle with big Cascarino, and often coming out on top. 
6. D. Wilson 7.0
Energetic. Shuttles forward to give support to the strikers.
7. Penney 6.7
Some good runs down the right flank in the 1st half; disappears completely after the break.
8. Quinn 6.6
Solid in the air, more trouble on the ground.
9. Clarke 7.2
busy night in which he won his share of battles with the two Irish stoppers.
10. O’Neill 6.8
grew in stature the longer the game progressed, and earned some richly deserved after-match praise.
11. Black 6.6
Almost invisible in the 1st half. Provides some crosses after HT.

1. Peyton 6.8
Brilliant save to deny Clarke.
2. Morris 6.7
did not always have his own way with Black.
3. Hughton 6.6
Has trouble in the 1st half, as the Ulstermen target his side.
4. McCarthy 6.8
5. Moran 7.0
so full of commitment he is a menace of an opponent, and would typically keep Clarke quiet.
6. McGrath 6.8
Good when called upon, but generally less to do in this match than normally.
7. Whelan 6.9
proved his worth with some strong tackling, and also played in Houghton who could have scored in the second half.
8. Houghton 7.0

9. Aldridge 6.2
so anonymous one would be asking one self whether he had actually left the pitch at half time.
10. Cascarino 7.1
Not only strong in the air, but also shows good control and vision.
11. Sheedy 6.7
Shows good work rate.

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