Tuesday 17 October 2017

O'Neill keen to avoid postponement

Windsor Park was unplayable on Friday
Windsor Park was unplayable on Friday

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill admits he will be left with a huge headache if his side's World Cup qualifier against Russia falls foul of the weather for the second time.

The Group F clash was due to take place at Windsor Park on Friday night but was postponed until 3pm on Saturday after driving snow in Belfast left the pitch unplayable. FIFA regulations state that the Irish Football Association must attempt to stage the match, but with more bad weather anticipated and the pitch already in poor shape that appears to be a long shot.

With another home match against Israel due on Tuesday night, there is little leeway beyond Saturday, and O'Neill said: "We can only prepare as though the game is going ahead. If that doesn't happen then that is a whole different set of circumstances with the fixture schedule."

He went on: "We play Israel on Tuesday and where we would try to fit the Russia game in, in that event, would be a huge issue. We will only address it tomorrow if it happens."

Forecasts had suggested the weather could be an issue, so O'Neill had considered the possibility of postponement in his preparations.

Should the game go ahead, he does not feel his side will have been unduly affected by the change but concedes it is an unusual development.

"We prepared with this scenario in mind also so we are comfortable enough about it," he said.

"None of the players will have experienced anything like this before in their international careers.

"It isn't ideal but it isn't exactly the end of the world either.

"Our preparations won't be disturbed too much by the cancellation. With the work we have done all week, we were prepared whether the game was on Friday or Saturday. Mentally the players will have to prepare for the game all over again, but I can't see it being a major issue."

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