Substitute Kyle Lafferty scored twice as Northern Ireland recorded a 4-0 victory over minnows San Marino in the first international to be staged at the refurbished Windsor Park.
A crowd of 18,234 witnessed Lafferty’s goals and strikes from Steven Davis and Jamie Ward, as well as a San Marino red card, as Michael O’Neill’s side avoided any drama in their World Cup qualifier ahead of Tuesday’s clash with Germany.
Davis converted a first-half penalty after Josh Magennis had been hauled down by Alessandro Della Valle, with the Southampton midfielder scoring his ninth international goal, seven of which have come in the month of October, before Lafferty and Ward enhanced the scoreline by scoring three times between them in the final 11 minutes.
A crowd that included Rory McIlroy, Carl Frampton and FIFA president Gianni Infantino would have been anticipating a routine home triumph, yet the role of favourites has not always suited Norn Iron, as defeats to Luxembourg and Azerbaijan in the previous World Cup qualifying campaign attest to.
Infantino had declared the stadium “absolutely beautiful” and O’Neill’s team were intent on christening their new home with a win.
The thinking behind including Magennis and Niall McGinn in the XI was evident from the start with a raft of right-wing crosses from the latter in the Charlton striker’s direction.
Stuart Dallas almost reached one McGinn centre but there was little to trouble a team that had conceded 17 times in their previous two away encounters, and in Jose Hirsch they even had a player presenting a goal threat as he struck over the crossbar.
O’Neill and the crowd could relax a little in the 26th minute when Davis scored from the spot, continuing his excellent run of form in October internationals, after Magennis was brought to the deck by Della Valle’s clumsy challenge.
It may have been 1-0 at the break, but any suggestion San Marino had aspirations beyond a slender defeat were dismissed when Mirko Palazzi was sent off for a second yellow card.
He did not help a country that have never won a competitive game in their entire history by impeding Michael McGovern as he tried to throw out to add a second yellow card to the one he earned after flattening McGinn in the first period.
Faced with 10 men for the final 41 minutes, Northern Ireland sensed the opportunity to take advantage, though they were still only 1-0 up with 12 minutes remaining.
That was in large part down to Aldo Simoncini’s plethora of saves from the likes of McGinn, Ward and substitute Conor Washington.
However, on a night when Northern Ireland amassed 33 attempts, the goals eventually came.
Lafferty, on as a 72nd-minute substitute, flicked in a second from a Shane Ferguson cross and he then headed a delivery from the same player on to Ward, who fired in a third with five minutes to go.
The cherry on the top was provided by Lafferty slotting home his 19th international goal with the final kick of the game and his performance in particular will have pleased O’Neill prior to the trip to Hannover, where a much sterner test lies in wait.