Northern Ireland manager Nigel Worthington had reasons to be cheerful as his side finished their 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ qualifying campaign with a creditable draw at the Synot Tip Stadium.

Keeping a clean sheet against the Czechs was one positive, the other was an impressive display by Niall McGinn, making his first start. The Celtic midfielder kept the home side on their toes with his pace and movement and was unlucky not to get on the scoresheet.

So even though they will not progress in the competition - finishing a point behind the third-placed Czechs in Group 3 - Northern Ireland are taking small steps forward and rediscovered some pride after the shattering defeat by Slovakia last time around.

They were quick out of the blocks on a bitterly cold night in Prague and Damien Johnson was floored by Marek Jankulovski in the third minute. Grant McCann delivered an inswinging free-kick and skipper Aaron Hughes, winning his 70th cap, peeled away from his marker only to head wide of the post.

McGinn then showed a good turn of pace down the left in the 15th minute but his cross was cleared to safety. Even though Northern Ireland have a dreadful record on the road they were knocking the ball about well and using McGinn and Johnson on the flanks whenever possible.

The Czechs were struggling to get going but broke out of their slumber in the 34th minute. Tomas Necid got on the end of a deep cross from David Jarolim but Stephen Craigan made a good block.

Play switched down the other end and Steven Davis squandered a good opportunity in the 39th minute. Johnson supplied the cross but Davis's touch inside the six-yard area let him down and the ball trickled past the post.

This was a good spell by Northern Ireland and McGinn nearly made the breakthrough in the 41st minute. He latched on to a through-ball from Davis and clipped in a half-volley. Petr Cech was slow to react but managed to turn the ball around the post at the last minute.

The Czechs responded two minutes later and Johnson showed his defensive side by clearing Tomas Sivok's header off the line following a corner from Tomas Rosicky.

Four minutes into the second half McGinn skipped past two defenders but, trying to place his effort beyond Cech into the corner, put too much pace on the ball and saw it go wide.

The Czechs hit back four minutes later and goalkeeper Maik Taylor had to look alert to turn over a corner from Jaroslav Plasil. Northern Ireland were enjoying plenty of possession, however, and Chris Baird released McCann in the 62nd minute.

He tried his luck from distance but failed to trouble Cech, his effort finishing wide of the target. Then McGinn set up David Healy in a good position. He strode forward only to send a weak shot into the arms of the goalkeeper.

Warren Feeney was drafted into the action after 68 minutes in the hope of getting the victory. He replaced Healy, who finished the campaign with just one goal to his credit. Healy, the top scorer in UEFA EURO 2008 qualifying, was disconsolate as he trudged off as Feeney took centre stage after just 45 minutes for Cardiff reserves this season following a hip injury.

The Czechs were anxious to finish on a winning note and almost went ahead in the 85th minute. Jankulovski cracked in a shot from the edge of the area but Taylor was equal to it and parried the ball to safety.