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O'Neill stares at long winter after North nightmare

NORTHERN Ireland manager Michael O'Neill is facing a long period of soul-searching after his side were held at home by lowly Azerbaijan last night.

O'Neill has now gone seven games without a win since taking over from Nigel Worthington at the turn of the year and has collected only three points from a possible 12 in World Cup qualifying.

While a brave 1-1 draw in Portugal lifted spirits last month, the same scoreline against Azerbaijan at Windsor Park will have the opposite effect.

Luxembourg also left Belfast with a point in September and O'Neill accepts that a difficult wait now lies in front of him.

"It will be a long three months because we're still looking for our first win," said the former Shamrock Rovers boss.

"If I look back over the seven matches I wouldn't do anything differently: I wouldn't have prepared differently or picked different teams.

"But I have to accept responsibility and I'm happy to do that.

"It's not good enough. We've drawn two games at home that we should have won.

"I don't think we have lost the momentum (from Portugal) to be honest, but we don't play again until February and we will judge it then."

Northern Ireland had no shortage of opportunities yesterday, with at least half a dozen gilt-edged chances coming and going after Rauf Aliyev's 30-yard screamer gave the visitors a shock fifth-minute lead.

Record goalscorer David Healy eventually levelled five minutes into added time to register his 36th international goal.

O'Neill declined to criticise his player's profligacy, instead opting to search for positives.

"I'm hugely disappointed not to win the game because we did everything in our power to do that," he said. "But I can't fault the players for the effort and they kept going right to the end. "The players never stopped believing and they got the very least they deserved."