Northern Ireland

Could the Ulstermen, ranked third in Group 6, qualify for the 1990 World Cup and play at the global stage a third time in a row? After qualifying both for the 1982 and 1986 World Cup, there was a sense of pessimism in the N. Irish camp. The Euro 1988 qualifiers had been a backlash for Bingham’s men, who finished far behind both England and Yugoslavia, amassing a meagre 3 points. There had also been criticism of the team from a home public that now had grown used to international success. If there was any optimism in the air, it was because one believed to see a rebuilding of the squad that gradually was taking shape, and perhaps could become successful during the ’90 qualifiers. Read more . . .

World Cup appearances: 1958, 1982, 1986

Manager: Billy Bingham


Qualifier 1: N. Ireland 3-0 Malta
21.05.1988, Windsor Park (Belfast)
Goals: Quinn, Penney, Clarke
Line-up (4-4-2): McKnight – Donaghy, McClelland (c), McDonald, Worthington – Penney (McNally 81), D Wilson, O’Neill, Dennison (Black 66) – Clarke, Quinn.
The Ulstermen escape a couple of early scares, then are three goals to the good at half time. It was a rare win for the Northern Irish, but one which could be a blessing for their rebuilding project?

Qualifier 2: N. Ireland 0-0 Rep. of Ireland
14.09.1988, Windsor Park (Belfast)
Line-up (4-4-2): McKnight – Donaghy (Rogan h-t), McClelland (c), McDonald, Worthington – Penney, D Wilson, O’Neill, Black – Clarke, Quinn.
N Ireland did look inferior to the Republic, but managed to hold on despite losing Donaghy to injury at half time. They could not create a lot of goalscoring opportunities

Qualifier 3: Hungary 1-0 N. Ireland
19.10.1988, Népstadion (Budapest)
Line-up (4-5-1): McKnight – Rogan, McClelland (c), McDonald, Worthington – Dennison, D Wilson, Donaghy, O’Neill (K Wilson 59), Black – Clarke (Quinn 82)
Bingham’s defensive 4-5-1 approach almost turned out to be a success, but for a late home goal. Clarke was on his own up front, and chances were again few and far between

Qualifier 4: Spain 4-0 N. Ireland
Line-up (4-5-1): McKnight – Rogan, McClelland (c), McDonald, Worthington – Penney, K Wilson, Donaghy (O’Neill 68), McCreery (Quinn 54), Black – Clarke
Despite giving away a silly own goal through Rogan, the Northern Irish coped well during the first half. Their midfield was exposed when McCreery was forced off with injury and Bingham brought on forward Quinn to replace him. It had until then worked well with Donaghy in a holding midfield role

Midway report: N. Ireland

Qualifier 5: N. Ireland 0-2 Spain
Line-up (4-4-2): McKnight – Ramsey, Donaghy, McClelland (c), Rogan – Dennison (O’Neill 64), D Wilson (Clarke 69), Sanchez, Black – Quinn, K Wilson
Spain score from set-piece situations, and Northern Ireland are again no attacking threat. Bingham had reverted back to 4-4-2, though he had placed Clarke on the bench. Sanchez was given a rare start in midfield

Qualifier 6: Malta 0-2 N. Ireland
Goals: Clarke, O’Neill
Line-up (4-4-2): Wright – Fleming, McClelland (c), Donaghy, Worthington (Rogan 87) – D Wilson, McCreery, Sanchez (O’Neill 72), K Wilson – Clarke, Quinn
As the opponents had recently drawn in Hungary, Bingham had made sure his players were taking Malta very seriously. They often sat deep and invited Malta onto them, but gained a controlled win in the end

Friendly: N. Ireland 0-1 Chile
Line-up: Wright – Fleming, McDonald, Donaghy (c), Rogan – D Wilson (Dennison 75), McCreery (C O’Neill 75), M O’Neill, K Wilson (Black 64) – Clarke, Quinn (Coyle 64)
Oddly, this was the only friendly that Northern Ireland played during the qualifying period. The team consisted of mostly regular starters, though a couple of players were given their debuts. C O’Neill from Motherwell was one of them, and he would be seen before the end of the qualifiers

Qualifier 7: N. Ireland 1-2 Hungary
06.09.1989, Windsor Park (Belfast)
Goal: Whiteside
Line-up (4-4-2): Wright – Fleming, Rogan, McDonald, Worthington – D Wilson, McCreery, Whiteside (c), Black – Clarke, Quinn (M O’Neill 65)
Arguably N. Ireland’s best match in these qualifiers, and yet they end up as the losing side. Whiteside returned from injury and contributed to the team’s dominant display, but once again they find it hard to actually score goals, and they are heavily punished by Hungarian brilliance.

Qualifier 8: Rep. of Ireland 3-0 N. Ireland
11.10.1989, Lansdowne Road (Dublin)
Line-up (4-5-1): Dunlop – Fleming, Donaghy, McDonald, Worthington – D Wilson, McCreery (C O’Neill 72), Whiteside (c), M O’Neill (K Wilson 80), Dennison – Clarke
As Northern Ireland were in the game for longer spells, the scoreline flattered the hosts. M O’Neill was often a thorn in the Irish side, and came close to scoring. However, the visitors never properly recovered after conceding late in the opening half


The Ulstermen never really looked close to qualifying for the World Cup this time around, with Spain and the Republic of Ireland well deserving of the two berths. At the start of the campaign, the public were talking of Bingham’s rebuilding project, and it is true that it came off to a promising start with a 3-0 win against Malta. There were also some positives from the following matches, where they drew with the Republic of Ireland and lost to Hungary, but despite battling bravely, they were always looking the inferior side. It also soon became clear that Northern Ireland were having great trouble in finding goals. Except for a late consolation goal against Hungary in Belfast, they failed to score in their six matches against the top three teams in the group.

2Rep. of Ireland852110212
4N. Ireland82156125

Player statistics

Number of players used: 23
Number of players including unused substitutes: 26
Ever-presents (720 mins): 0
Leading goalscorer: Colin Clarke (2)
Yellow/red cards: 10/0

– overview

Clarke, Colin8716432
Worthington, Nigel776272/0
Wilson, Danny776092/0
Donaghy, Mal775631/0
McClelland, John66540
McDonald, Alan665402/0
Black, Kingsley6511474
Quinn, Jimmy75214691
McKnight, Allen553450
O’Neill, Michael8444101
Rogan, Anton6422408
Wilson, Kevin5322311
Dennison, Robbie4433101/0
McCreery, David442306
Fleming, Gary333270
Penney, Steve3312611
Whiteside, Norman2218012/0
Wright, Tommy221180
Sanchez, Lawrie22162
Dunlop, George1190
Ramsey, Paul11190
O’Neill, Colin1118
McNally, Bernard119
Campbell, David1
Hughes, Phil4
Morrow, Steve1

– game by game

PlayerMal (h)Ire (h)Hun (a)Spa (a)Spa (h)Mal (a)Hun (h)Ire (a)AppsMins
O’Neill, M90905922261825804+4410
Wilson, D909090699090907609
Wilson, KR31909090R103+2311
O’Neill, C18+118

– ratings

PosPlayerAverage ratingNumber of rated games
5Wilson, D6,787
7O’Neill, M6,724
Explanation to table: Number of rated games: 8. A player must have obtained a rating in half or more of the games in order to feature


Friendly: Northern Ireland 2-3 Norway
Goals: Quinn, K Wilson
Line-up: Kee – Hill, Donaghy, McClelland (c) (Dowie 78), Taggart – D Wilson, McCreery (Rogan 19), K Wilson, Black – Clarke, Quinn

Friendly: Northern Ireland 1-0 Uruguay
Goal: K Wilson
Line-up: Wright – Hill (Devine 80), Taggart, McDonald (c), Worthington – Rogan (Morrow 84), D Wilson, K Wilson, Dennison (McCreery 61) – Dowie, Black

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