Northern Ireland were made to pay for a makeshift defence as Norway scored three times in the opening 20 minutes on their way to a 5-1 Nations League victory at Windsor Park.
With Jonny Evans and Jamal Lewis both missing from the matchday squad, Northern Ireland were repeatedly exposed at the back with Bailey Peacock-Farrell – the hero of Friday’s 1-1 draw in Romania – unable to do anything as Mohamed Elyounoussi, Erling Haaland and Alexander Sorloth all scored early goals.
There had been time during a frantic opening sequence for Paddy McNair to score a fifth-minute equaliser, but second-half goals from Sorloth and Haaland saw Northern Ireland concede five at home for the first time since 2002.
Played out amid the echoes of an empty Windsor Park, it was certainly not the night Ian Baraclough was hoping for in his first home game in charge – and it will come as a chastening experience with the Euro 2020 qualifying play-off away to Bosnia and Herzegovina next on the agenda in October.
Steven Davis lined up to earn his 119th cap, equalling the Northern Ireland record of Pat Jennings, but the team-sheet contained plenty of other surprises.
Jonny Evans missed Friday’s trip to Romania for what were described as “personal reasons” but had trained with his team-mates after their return and was said to be available – with Leicester posting a message of good luck to their centre-half on social media in the morning.
But he was absent from the matchday squad along with Jamal Lewis, the Norwich left-back understood to be closing on a move to Newcastle, with Baraclough saying before kick-off both players were out with “niggles”.
That left Daniel Ballard, who had spent much of the time since his impressive debut in Bucharest in an ice bath after cramping up, to start again alongside Craig Cathcart with Shane Ferguson and Michael Smith starting in the full-back positions.
But the patched-up back line was immediately under scrutiny as Norway took the lead all too easily just two minutes in.
A long ball over the top found the run of an unmarked Elyounoussi inside the box and he had time to take a touch before firing beyond the helpless Peacock-Farrell.
There was hope moments later as Norway goalkeeper Rune Jarstein could only push Conor Washington’s shot into the path of McNair who tapped home the rebound.
But it was a very temporary reprieve. Two minutes later Northern Ireland again failed to deal with a diagonal ball into the box and it sat up nicely for Haaland to lash an unstoppable left-footed shot home from 20 yards.
In the 19th minute the sweeping ball came from the left but the result was the same as an unmarked Sorloth met Haitam Aleesami’s cross to tap in from close range.
Baraclough looked to shake things up at half-time, sending on Liam Boyce for Ballard as McNair dropped into defence.
But two minutes after the restart things only got worse as Haaland beat Cathcart for pace chasing a ball over the top, then side-footed for Sorloth to slot home a fourth for the visitors.
Haaland had his second before the hour, and again it was far too easy for Norway to cut their way through with one-touch football before Omar Elabdellaoui headed the ball on for the Borussia Dortmund man to lift it over the stranded Peacock-Farrell.
It was simply not Northern Ireland’s night, a moment highlighted when Davis – given the opportunity to mark his milestone appearance with a goal – sent a rising shot well over late on.
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