McGinn draws hope from Malta stalemate

Eleanor Crooks

Northern Ireland forward Niall McGinn hopes last night's goalless draw in Malta has pointed the side in the right direction for next month's World Cup qualifier against Russia.

Manager Michael O'Neill had hoped to secure his first win at the eighth time of asking but the visitors could not find a breakthrough, Danny Lafferty seeing a first-half header ruled out for offside.

O'Neill selected his team with next month's match in Belfast in mind, when Kyle Lafferty and Chris Baird are suspended. Both were left out and O'Neill gave Alex Bruce a debut in midfield, with Walsall's Will Grigg winning his second cap as the lone striker.

McGinn said: "The biggest positive here is if Michael has found a system that will work against Russia, just because he has had that many young and new players available. Things have been going on behind the scenes, everyone has been working hard to try and get progress. And against Azerbaijan and Portugal the defence has been very good. We are bonding well as a team, we need to keep building on clean sheets if possible and build on that with some wins."


McGinn plays as a striker for Aberdeen but played wide right last night, although he missed one of his side's best chances when he scuffed a second-half shot from Aaron Hughes' pull-back.

O'Neill's record reads five draws and three defeats from eight games, and the manager admitted his side were not good enough in the final third and had it not been for stand-in keeper Alan Mannus, who made two fine saves from Malta captain Michael Mifsud, they may well have lost.

"We've had eight games, we've had five draws and three defeats. We've had some very difficult games in there," said O'Neill. "Of course it's a concern but at the end of the day the only people who can change that are myself and the players and I'm aware of that."