Sunday 18 February 2018

Michael O'Neill satisfied with point for Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill was content with a point in Prague
Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill was content with a point in Prague

Michael O'Neill believes a point was a more valuable outcome for Northern Ireland than the Czech Republic after the two shared the spoils in a Prague stalemate.

In one of their trickiest fixtures in the World Cup qualifying process, the Northern Irish were fortunate to emerge with anything after Filip Novak somehow squandered a close-range chance by firing wide when left all alone in the second half.

The positivity which had emanated from their historic participation in the Euros only two months ago will have been curbed by this below-par showing, yet O'Neill was satisfied enough with a 0-0 draw in the first step to reaching Russia in 2018.

"I think it's a better point for us than it is for them," O'Neill argued.

"With Mr (Karel) Jarolim coming in as the new coach, he would have obviously wanted to start with a win.

"I think this group is going to be tight. We've played Azerbaijan in the past and that won't be an easy game home and away for any team.

"Norway made the play-offs for the Euros, so they'll believe they're capable of finishing in second spot. It's going to be a tight group.

"The great thing is that we got off to a good start in a difficult away game. We've not been beaten and now we've got a home game to look forward to that we need to win."

A pre-season friendly feel seemed to grip some of O'Neill's players, a factor which could be put down to the lack of game-time some of his players have had this term.

Key striker Kyle Lafferty is out of favour at Norwich, Paddy McNair is yet to amass an hour of cumulative top-flight football for new club Sunderland and Jamie Ward, who moved on loan to Burton this week, has made just one league start this term.

"You have to look at our team," O'Neill stressed.

"The two lads playing full-back play their club football in League One. We had four lads starting who aren't regulars.

"We aren't going to come here to a team of the Czech Republic's calibre and dominate possession of the ball. We have to be very well structured and organised, and show our quality.

"There are two sides to the game: when you don't have the ball and when you do. We're a very good team when we don't have the ball. What we have to improve a little bit is when we do have it."

Despite being a team in transition, the Czechs will surely consider this a missed opportunity, particularly after Novak's miss, which Jarolim did his best to explain.

"I have to understand why he did what he did," he said.

"This kind of situation doesn't happen many times during a match. He should have scored, obviously, and I know he's capable of it."

Press Association

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