Northern Ireland's World Cup qualifier against Fabio Capello's Russia side was postponed for the second time within 24 hours as freezing weather conditions wreaked havoc with the sporting calendar. Several League One and Two matches were called off and horse racing in Britain was reduced to a single meeting, a low-value all-weather card at Southwell, as snow and falling temperatures again did their worst.
In Belfast, Irish Football Association staff were among those who braved the hostile conditions to clear the playing surface on Friday, but ice patches remained morning. Under Fifa regulations, the IFA had to rearrange the fixture for the following day, but, despite an improvement in the weather, the pitch at Windsor Park remained unplayable. The Norwegian match officials and representatives of the IFA and the Russian football federation met at the stadium for a further inspection at 10am before cancelling the fixture.
Northern Ireland's home fixture against Israel on Tuesday is expected to go ahead, providing the weather continues to improve, but the Russia game is likely to be rearranged for June.
Capello's team play Portugal away on 7 June and the international calendar allows for games on 11, 14 and 18 June. While a major headache for Michael O'Neill, Capello and the players, a thought should be spared for the hundreds of supporters from Russia who travelled to Belfast for the game.
The IFA head of communications, Geoff Wilson, said: "We are very disappointed the game has had to be postponed again and every effort was made to ensure it went ahead. Unfortunately that has not been possible. When the snow was lifted it became apparent that cold temperatures had led to ice forming on the pitch and the safety of players was an issue. We will now have to sit down with our counterparts from the Russian federation and decide when we can stage the fixture."
The Israel game would have been in doubt had Northern Ireland been able to host Russia because the Windsor Park pitch would have struggled to cope with two competitive fixtures in three days. Linfield's ground ranks as one of the most basic stadiums in international football and work is expected to start later this year on a £29m redevelopment.
But O'Neill claimed the conditions would have posed problems for any association. "We experienced freak weather over a short period of time, from late Thursday and early Friday – freak weather which would have been challenging for any association to get the game on," he said.
"There are more modern stadia that could maybe deal with it, but it's the first time in history it has happened [to Northern Ireland], so it's not something we haven't managed well, or have mis-managed over time."