Hearts duo Kyle Lafferty and Aaron Hughes helped Northern Ireland to a 3-0 win over San Marino to keep their World Cup qualifying hopes alive.
Lafferty played an hour before being replaced in Serravalle, while defender Hughes played the whole 90 minutes. Despite being named in the squad, Jambos full-back Michael Smith did not make the substitutes bench. Hearts assistant coach Austin MacPhee was in the dug-out alongside manager Michael O’Neill.
The Northern Irish victory was secured by three goals in eight second-half minutes as they chalked up four successive wins for the first time in their history.
Having been frustrated for 70 minutes by a team that have never won a competitive game, Josh Magennis’ double and Steven Davis’ penalty all arrived in quick succession to get the job done.
With Azerbaijan and Czech Republic both losing, a draw against the Czechs on Monday in Belfast will guarantee second spot, and a likely play-off berth, for O’Neill’s side.
Former Kilmarnock forward Magennis, who had only scored once for his country before this game, netted on 71 minutes and then added a second five minutes later when Connor Washington squared for him to calmly head home from the centre of the area.
San Marino were unravelling and, when the ball bounced up and hit Alex Gasperoni’s hand in the area, the visitors had a penalty and a fine chance to score their third in just eight minutes and Davis duly obliged.