“We knew we would be stretched by the loss of Jonny [Evans] and Jamal [Lewis] and would find it hard against this strike force, ”said the Northern Ireland official. “They were ruthless. Haaland is a £ 100million player, isn’t he?
Baraclough’s home opener and Steven Davis ‘119th appearance for his country – a superb feat that equaled Pat Jennings’ record – had created an optimistic atmosphere around the game, but four goals in the opening 19 minutes was the statistic that shaped the night. It spoiled the night from a Northern Ireland perspective, as Norway scored three.
Lagerback got the response he demanded following his side’s surprise home loss to Austria last week. Celtic’s Mohamed Elyounoussi started the flurry with a polished finish of the cross pass from influential Stefan Johansen. Hearts right-back Michael Smith gave his man too much room and was punished before he had time to recover, with Elyounoussi in full control of his chest and beating Bailey Peacock-Farrell with a first arrival.
Northern Ireland retaliated immediately. Young Arsenal defender Daniel Ballard has freed Conor Washington behind the Norwegian defense. His shot was parried by goalkeeper Rune Jarstein and the ball broke perfectly for Paddy McNair to dip into an empty net. The parity, as well as the threat from Baraclough’s team, were only fleeting.
In one minute, Haaland demonstrated the prodigious talent that set him apart on the pitch at Windsor Park. Norway were clearly targeting Ballard and Smith with long diagonal balls and Sorloth dominated the aerial challenges. His header took a slight deflection on Ballard but the Dortmund forward adjusted his body with ease to sweep an unstoppable training past the Burnley keeper on the half-volley.
Haaland was involved in the third as Norway established a comfortable lead in the first half. The forward released Haitam Aleesami on the left and the full-back delivered an inviting cross for the first time to the back post. Sorloth, unmarked, brought the ball home with ease.
Evans’ absence has been keenly felt by a team that cannot afford to lose Premier League experience and he was not the only first team player unavailable for the Northern Ireland manager. Lewis, in talks with Newcastle over a move from Norwich, was also missing while Josh Magennis has been suspended following his sacking against Romania.
Baraclough moved up to 3-5-2 for the second half with Ballard struggling with a hamstring problem and his side in serious need of improvement in the final third. Northern Ireland had offered little after McNair’s equalizer, but the manager’s planned recovery was shattered moments after the restart as Norway struck for the fourth time.
Haaland was at the heart of it, almost inevitably, coming through the home defense after trading passes with Johansen and losing interest in Sorloth with only Peacock-Farrell to beat. The Crystal Palace outcast wasn’t wrong and the worst was to follow for Northern Ireland when Haaland scored his second of the night. Defensively, the hosts were not in good shape when Omar Elabdellaoui’s skillful header sent the forward on goal, but there was no foul on the finish line. Haaland looped another cool left-footed shot around Peacock-Farrell to doom Northern Ireland to their heaviest home loss in 18 years.