N Ireland 1 England 0

England plumbed new depths of embarrassment as their World Cup qualification hopes took a battering in Belfast, with David Healy firing Northern Ireland to perhaps the greatest victory in their history.

And to think that Sven-Goran Eriksson had claimed his side could compete with Brazil next summer.

At cricket? Certainly not at football, certainly not with these tactics, certainly not with this lack of leadership from their manager and certainly not by a team going backwards fast in international terms.

To make matters even worse, if that was possible, Wayne Rooney ruled himself out of the next qualifier at home to Austria next month with his second booking of the campaign. It was that sort of night.

Eriksson was once again left powerless on the bench, suffering the pain of being beaten by the side ranked 116th in the world as Healy's 74th-minute winner flew past goalkeeper Paul Robinson.

"Are you Scotland in disguise?" taunted the home fans. Certainly not, for the Scots are a winning side again, courtesy of a 2-1 success in Norway.

England, meanwhile, are getting worse, not better. Routed 4-1 in Denmark, they scraped past Wales in Cardiff but have now hit another low.

Make no mistake, this Northern Ireland side deserve every accolade coming their way after a performance which will be remembered for decades in these parts.

However, their weekend win against Azerbaijan was their first competitive victory in almost four years. Their second followed just four days later.

Boss Lawrie Sanchez, the inspiration behind Wimbledon's 1988 FA Cup final upset against Liverpool, had confounded the odds once again.

Eriksson, meanwhile, could only watch helplessly as his side's failings were painfully exposed.

England's out-of-form midfield ran down dead-end channels, Michael Owen was left isolated up front and, most damagingly of all, Rooney was sapped of his creative influence, as much by his role as his lack of support.

But while Rooney's temperament is as fragile as ever, the England coach bears some responsibility for the striker's absence against Austria as his role on the left flank demanded him to track back and make desperate tackles.

For Sanchez's side were up for it from the off, plunging into full-blooded challenges as England were knocked out of the stride.

David Beckham did rattle the woodwork with a freekick, while Owen directed an overhead kick straight at keeper Maik Taylor just before the break.

However, Northern Ireland were not unduly troubled and Rooney's frustration was clearly growing. Indeed, when he was denied a freekick just before half-time, he blasted the ball into the opposition's half in anger. Beckham marched over to urge the teenager to calm down but was met with a four-letter verbal volley as Rooney promptly launched himself, arm-first, into a dangerous challenge on Keith Gillespie.

He was fortunate only to be booked but he had not calmed down yet.

When he charged into another arm-first challenge on Chris Baird, Swiss referee Massimo Busacca's leniency only just continued and a final warning was issued.

Rooney re-emerged after the interval with a very public hug for Beckham in the way of an apology but England were little improved and Joe Cole soon replaced Shaun Wright-Phillips. Determined to make his mark after being dropped despite his matchwinning goal against Wales, Cole quickly crossed for Owen to flick a header wide, while Frank Lampard's long-range effort was tipped round the post.

However, it was the Northern Irish who rallied instead, with James Quinn firing an effort just wide, while Robinson gratefully grasped a dangerous low cross by Healy. The warning signs were not heeded.

Aston Villa midfielder Steve Davis then clipped the ball forwards into the path of Healy, who had evaded the offside trap, and the Leeds striker brought the ball down on his instep before firing an unstoppable shot into the far corner.

That goal brought the Windsor Park crowd ecstatically to their feet. They could not believe it. Neither could the England bench.

Eriksson brought on Jermain Defoe for Steven Gerrard and Owen Hargreaves for Lampard but it was the home side who threatened again on the break through Healy, with substitute Warren Feeney also just inches away from a second.

England now need to beat Austria and Poland to make sure of qualification, but next summer's tournament is fast becoming the moment when Eriksson's time could be up as England coach. If not before.