Shane Ferguson marked his 50th cap for Northern Ireland with a wonder strike as they edged out Estonia 1-0 in a friendly.
For 75 minutes the two sides played out a largely drab affair in Tallinn but second-half substitute Ferguson changed that when he lashed home a left-footed strike from 30 yards to spark jubilant celebrations.
It made it two wins out of two for Ian Baraclough’s side this week, meaning they will go into Wednesday’s crunch World Cup qualifier against Switzerland full of confidence.
As promised, Baraclough made major changes to rest his main men following the exertions of Thursday’s 4-1 qualifying win over Lithuania, but still sprang one surprise as Jamal Lewis kept his place ahead of Ferguson in the starting line-up.
Paddy McNair, suspended for Wednesday, was the only other player retained but Baraclough still chose a number of experienced players, with Niall McGinn confirmed as captain, Kyle Lafferty leading the line, and Trevor Carson replacing Bailey Peacock-Farrell in goal.
They faced an Estonia side featuring seven players from Tallinn’s own FC Flora, including the 37-year-old captain Konstantin Vassiljev, who won his 133rd cap.
The Estonian players’ familiarity with each other was apparent as the hosts made a bright start, with Vassiljev getting away from Ciaron Brown to tee up Maksim Paskosti, but the Spurs youngster fired well over.
Rauna Sappinen then got in front of Tom Flanagan before crumbling to the floor, but the referee correctly waved away appeals.
Northern Ireland gradually grew into the game, with Jordan Jones’ fine volleyed pass releasing Gavin Whyte, but his return ball into the box was cut out for a corner.
Northern Ireland kept the pressure on and Alfie McCalmont picked out Lafferty, but the veteran – without an international goal since November 2016 – could not generate power on the turn as Matvej Igonen comfortably gathered the ball.
Estonia made four changes at the break and looked revitalised as a result. Mattias Kait made a dangerous run down the left before fellow substitute Henri Anier’s low cross from the right found Erik Sorga, but Flanagan did just enough to ensure the VVV-Venlo striker poked wide.
Baraclough responded by replacing Lafferty with Dion Charles and sending on Ferguson in place of Lewis, with the Rotherham man being handed the captain’s armband by McGinn on his landmark appearance.
Northern Ireland were preparing to replace Carson too when the Dundee United goalkeeper got down well to safe Sorga’s shot across goal as Estonia threatened again just after the hour – his last involvement before Conor Hazard took his place.
But the hosts remained on top, with former Dundee United and Motherwell forward Anier sending another chance wide.
The game then changed as Ferguson’s bullet found the top corner, with Igonen unable to do anything more than push it on to the inside of a post on its way in as the 30-year-old got his second international goal.
Northern Ireland tails were up and fellow substitute Conor Bradley, earning his second cap, poked a shot wide from the edge of the area before teeing up Ferguson for another strike which this time sailed over.
Hazard saved smartly from Anier before Markus Poom – son of former Derby and Sunderland goalkeeper Mart – sent a late chance over as Northern Ireland hung on for the win.
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