O'Neill hails importance of draw
Published 13/06/2015 | 23:36
Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill believes his side have all but guaranteed themselves a Euro 2016 play-off place after drawing with Romania.
O'Neill's men came close to going top of Group F as they heaped on the pressure in the final moments of the 0-0 stalemate at Windsor Park.
Only visiting goalkeeper Ciprian Tatarusanu prevented them taking all three points, denying Jonny Evans just before the break before saving from Kyle Lafferty and Oliver Norwood in the dying minutes.
A share of the spoils still leaves them with 13 points, two ahead of Hungary in third and seven in front of the Faroe Islands, who have stunned Greece twice to sit fourth.
O'Neill still has his heart set on automatic qualification but believes the play-off that comes with third spot is effectively in the bag.
"With a little more care in the box or a little more precision with the finishing we could have won the game but this is a big point," said O'Neill.
"It cements our place in the top three I think and that leaves it all to play for when we face the Faroes and Hungary in September.
"I've said all along 18 points is the target and this is another point towards that. What is great is that we're still only one point behind Romania.
"We've managed to get points on board early, winning difficult games in Greece and Hungary and we've followed that with seven points from nine at home.
"We saw here close to our strongest team going head to head with the side that is widely recognised as strongest in the group and I don't think there was anything between the sides at all."
O'Neill believes this top-of-the-table clash was the most nervy he has experienced in the campaign - with the rivals constantly weighing up the risk and reward of pushing for victory - but expects plenty more of the same in the next four fixtures.
"I felt it was probably the tensest game yet, there was tension there from the outset," he said.
"Both teams stifled each other: we pressed them very well and they did likewise to us. It became a game neither side wanted to lose.
"Both teams were determined not to be beaten and the games may well continue in that fashion. They will all probably be decided by finest of margins from now on."