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HAMILTON NIGHTMARE; N IRELAND 0 NORWAY 2 Dowie gets the elbow.

BRYAN HAMILTON'S Northern Ireland youngsters bit off more than they could chew in this boring friendly at Windsor Park last night.

And an 84th minute sending-off of big Iain Dowie only added to the agony.

He was sent packing for allegedly elbowing Ronny Johnsen in full view of the main stand on the half-way line.

It automatically rules him out of next month's game against Sweden and leaves a serious gap in the front line that will be hard to fill.

His courageous running has become part and parcel of whatever threat Northern Ireland pose. He has accepted the loneliest job in the game with only infrequent support.

The Irish were forced to swallow the blunt truth - that a 34 places gap in the world rankings was too big a step to take against the 17th-rated Norwegians. It was like taking buns from babies, and but for a couple of half-hearted chances for Gerard McMahon of Spurs and a free-kick by Michael Hughes there was little else to cheer.

McMahon had the ball in the net but there had been an infringement.

Hamilton has few crumbs of comfort after a risk that failed to come off in a jaded, disappointing show.

The Irish, noted for their passion when playing for their country, were punchless - and punchdrunk by the finish.

They were set up, knocked down and the defeat might have been even heavier.

Swallow

They were hustled and bustled out of their stride by a big, strong and talented team that had the winning look from start to finish.

A tale of misplaced passes, no set pattern and a midfield that was overpowered was hard for the small crowd of 5,343 to swallow.

Hamilton brought off Southampton midfielder Jim Magilton at the break for Darren Patterson and then another switch released Manchester City's Stephen Lomas from full-back to his normal role in the middle.

But even that failed to work in second half desperation.

The Irish had an early scare that ruffled their feathers after only seven minutes and they never seemed to settle after that.

Norway's top player Peter Rudi, unmarked in midfield, slotted the ball through to one of his partners, the swift Staage Solbakken and he drove at goal from 20 yards.

Irish goalkeeper Alan Fettis blocked the shot but failed to hold it and Solbakken dashed in to finish the job, but a goal-line clearance by centre- back Colin Hill cleared the danger.

Keith Gillespie did promise with a few darting runs along the right but left-back Stig Bjornebye had his measure.

The Irish continued to live dangerously as they tried but failed to get a grip of the game.

Hughes, the West Ham lad who had also promised so much, made an inexplicable blunder when his pass went direct to the dangerous Rudi.

He brought the speedy Oyvind Leonhardsen into the game with a shot on the run from the left that hit the base of a post.

Helplee

All the Irish could offer in token resistance was a Keith Gillespie shot deflected for their first corner after 30 minutes and then a Hughes 30-yard free-kick that went over the defensive wall but over the bar as well.

Sub McMahon did have the ball in the net from a Gillespie cross in the 66th minute but a foul was given against Dowie in the box as he went for the same ball.

The crack, after waves of Norwegian pressure, had to come. Five minutes after the break Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who had hardly figured in the action as partner to Jan Aage Fjortoft, grabbed the goal they deserved.

His shot spiralled off the unfortunate Alan McDonald and over Fettis's head. He was left helpless by the deflection.

Then on 78 minutes Norwegian sub Egil Ostenstad wrapped it up when he side-footed home a cross by the ever-dangerous Peter Rudi.

The Irish were left a dejected side. It was a far cry from their glory win over Austria in November.

They were a pale shadow of that team and the buzz was missing.

Misplaced passes, lack of cohesion and a general lackadaisical air was depressing to watch. But that may be paying scant respect to the Norwegians, who began controlling the action and then refused to relax their hold.

Dowie was tightly policed by two stern defenders in Henning Berg and Ronnie Johnsen, which may have accounted for his costly outburst.

It was a lacklustre performance of nervous, jittery players and it's back to the classroom.

But it will take some stern lecturing from Hamilton to whip them into some sort of shape before they play Sweden - and only heaven knows what will happen when the Germans come to Belfast in May.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Sport
Author:Toner, Alex
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Mar 28, 1996
Words:787
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