Ukraine vs. Northern Ireland (Tactical report)

Michael O'Neill gambled with his Northern Ireland side by making five changes, including relegating frontman and top-scorer Kyle Lafferty to the substitutes' bench.

Northern Ireland defeated Ukraine to earn its first win at a European Championship and remains in contention for a place in the last 16. The 2-0 victory, courtesy goals from Gareth McAuley and Niall McGinn, leaves it third in the table with three points, just one point behind joint-toppers Germany and Poland.

So where was the game won and lost?

Michael O'Neill gambled with his Northern Ireland side by making five changes, including relegating frontman and top-scorer Kyle Lafferty to the substitutes' bench. O'Neill put his faith on QPR’s Conor Washington instead and that paid dividends as he and Jamie Ward, who was playing on the right flank of a 4-5-1, constantly threatened the Ukrainian defence with their pace and trickery.

The first-half was even stevens but in classic British style, the goal came from a set piece. In the 49th minute McAuley brilliantly got on the end of Norwood's well-taken free-kick to break the deadlock (see picture). The defender, 36, in the process became the second oldest scorer at the EUROs.

Soon after, a hailstorm saw players head into the tunnel for a forced break that added six minutes to stoppage time.

In the restart, Ukraine went on the offensive in search of that elusive eqauliser. It battered the Irish goal for 40 minutes, with Yevhen Konoplyanka, Andriy Yarmolenko and Oleksandr Zinchenko among the many who went close to scoring. The side had 17 shots in total but was let down by its strikers’ accuracy; only five were on target and very few threatened Michael McGovern’s goal.

In the end it turned out to be a classic case of possession but no real penetration (63%-37%) as Northern Ireland seemed to be more than happy to soak in the pressure, albeit nervously.

However, Northern Ireland's nervousness disappeared in injury time when Aberdeen winger McGinn pounced on the tired Ukranian defenders to seal victory, latching onto a rebound from Oliver Norwood’s original shot.