Tuesday 20 March 2018

Michael O'Neill in confident mood as Northern Ireland chase history-making win

Michael O'Neill is confident Northern Ireland can defeat Hungary once more
Michael O'Neill is confident Northern Ireland can defeat Hungary once more

Northern Ireland boss Michael O'Neill spent Friday evening trying to avoid knowing how Group F rivals Hungary were faring, but there is no escaping what lies in store for his country on Monday if they defeat the eastern Europeans in Belfast.

While the Northern Irish recorded a 3-1 victory over the Faroe Islands in Torshavn, their two biggest threats in their Euro 2016 qualifying group took a point apiece as the Hungarians held previous leaders Romania to a stalemate.

It meant O'Neill's side climbed to the top of the Group F pile, one point clear of Romania and four ahead of Hungary with only three fixtures remaining.

O'Neill had spoken before kick-off about wanting Romania to emerge victorious to enhance Northern Ireland's prospects in a three-horse race, yet he was happy enough with what transpired in Budapest anyway as it now means a win at Windsor Park in two days' time will ensure the hosts book a place in their first ever European Championship finals next summer.

"Towards the end they were telling me things that I didn't really want to hear - the ones in the dugout," O'Neill said of being kept abreast of developments in the clash between Hungary and Romania.

"As soon as we came in we knew it was done. I've been in this situation as a player where you're dealing with other results, it wasn't like that scenario because there's still so much football to play. The most important thing was to focus on ourselves.

"But the result in Budapest is fantastic for us. We'll look at the highlights and the game but we know Hungary very well, we know where their threat is. We'll be able to deal with that threat.

"The players have already gone there and won. They know how to win in this situation. It's a situation that everyone's looking forward to."

O'Neill is also confident he can expect big performances from two players who have been integral to Northern Ireland throughout this qualifying campaign.

Defender Jonny Evans, who moved to West Brom last weekend having been marginalised at Manchester United, and fit-again striker Kyle Lafferty both made their first appearances of the season against the Faroes.

The latter in particular has become his nation's go-to man over the past couple of seasons and struck his sixth goal of the qualifiers on Friday, although it was the fact he came through 78 minutes unscathed that O'Neill believes will bode well for Monday.

"Laffers was a wee bit down the gears," O'Neill acknowledged.

"It's only natural with his first game this season, coming back off the injury, he will certainly be better for the 78 minutes. Getting the goal's an extra bonus for him as well.

"Jonny will as well, although I thought Jonny had a very good game. It's two players coming in and it's virtually their first game of the season. They handled it extremely well.

"All of those things combined are going to help us with the game on Monday night."

Press Association

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