Kirstu McGuinness and Lauren Wade, all smiles as NI defeated Latvia on Tuesday night.
The Northern Ireland senior women’s team marked their return to the National Football Stadium at Windsor Park with a scintillating victory.
They had not played at the stadium for nine years – but they looked at home when registering a 4-0 win for the second game running.
Goals from Louise McDaniel, Kirsty McGuinness, Marissa Callaghan and Rachel Furness (penalty) were enough to secure the fine victory against Latvia in a FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023 qualifier played in front of more than 4000 fans in Belfast.
Northern Ireland created several chances during the 90-plus minutes, just as they did in the 4-0 win over Luxembourg in their opening European Qualifying Group D fixture on Friday, and they could have scored more than four.
Manager Kenny Shiels made four changes to the team that started against Luxembourg in Larne. Demi Vance, Laura Rafferty, McDaniel and Kerry Beattie came in for Rebecca McKenna, Julie Nelson, Rebecca Holloway and Emily Wilson.
Kirsty McGuinness, who was given the captain’s armband for the night as she won her 50th cap for Northern Ireland, was immediately on the front foot, running at the Latvian defence.
In the early stages Sarah McFadden headed over the top, while Lauren Wade’s shot from distance flew above the bar, too.
Latvia attacker Olga Sevcova, who was looking dangerous down the left, broke clear on 17 minutes and Northern Ireland keeper Jackie Burns produced a fine stop from her low drive.
Wade, who was producing some great runs down the right, fired in a series of crosses which were blocked by the visitors’ defence.
A lofted McGuinness delivery from a free-kick was fumbled by the Latvia keeper but her defence cleared the danger.
McDaniel scooped a shot over the top before Wade fired another shot above the bar.
On 35 minutes McFadden met a McGuinness cross and her looping header hit the top of the bar.
The Latvians, who had not managed either a win or a draw in their previous eight games across 2020 and 2021, were put under constant pressure as half-time approached.
Chloe McCarron, who was making things tick, fired a shot over and Furness let fly from distance, however her effort drifted well wide of the target.
On the stroke of half-time Furness played a superb crossfield ball in behind the Latvian defence to the onrushing Wade, however she screwed her shot wide of the far post.
The temporary skipper fed regular captain Callaghan just after the restart but her shot slid wide of the upright.
Minutes later Northern Ireland took the lead. Callaghan had a shot blocked but the rebound fell to McDaniel and she drilled the ball into the top corner. It was her first goal at senior international level.
McGuinness, sent clear by Furness, fired a shot straight at the keeper, while Wade headed another Furness delivery on to the top of the net.
Then Wade’s low shot was pushed around the post by Latvia keeper Enija-Anna Vaivode before Callaghan’s speculative effort sailed over the bar.
On 65 minutes McGuinness grabbed Northern Ireland’s second with a lovely finish. She was played in by Callaghan and drew the keeper before firing a shot low into the far corner. It was a great way to mark her 50-cap milestone.
A neat cross from substitute Rebecca McKenna was headed over by Furness, who shot straight at the keeper minutes later.
Substitute Caragh Milligan set off on a couple of lung-busting runs but her tantalising crosses into the area were cleared.
Northern Ireland made it three on 78 minutes when Vance’s superb cross from the left was chested home by Callaghan from close range.
The girls in green and white made it 4-0 four minutes later from the spot. The penalty, awarded when Latvia midfielder Karline Miksone handled a Callaghan drive, was hammered into the net by Furness.
Callaghan forced a fine save out of the Latvian keeper in added time but by that stage the three points had been well and truly secured.
Northern Ireland: Jacqueline Burns, Demi Vance, Sarah McFadden, Laura Rafferty, Louise McDaniel, Chloe McCarron, Marissa Callaghan, Lauren Wade, Rachel Furness, Kirsty McGuinness (captain), Kerry Beattie. Substitutes: (used) Rebecca McKenna, Caragh Milligan, Kelsie Burrows, Danielle Maxwell, Ciara Watling; (unused) Becky Flaherty (GK), Maddison Harvey-Clifford (GK), Julie Nelson, Rebecca Holloway, Caitlin McGuinness, Nadene Caldwell, Emily Wilson.
Latvia: Enija-Anna Vaivode, Ligita Tumane, Arta Luize Lubina, Viktorija Zaicikova, Signija Senberga, Anastasija Rocane, Renate Fedotova, Sandra Voitane (captain), Olga Sevcova, Karlina Miksone, Sofija Gergeleziu. Substitutes: Alina Skiemenova (GK), Laura Sinutkina, Kristine Evelina Lodzina, Selga Vitmore, Kristine Girzda, Laura Sondore, Tatjana Baliceva, Evelina Freidenfelde, Sofija Garanca, Anna Valaka, Nikola Brahmane, Juta Buklovska.