Saturday 23 November 2019

Luxembourg won't be easy, insists Little

Rory Dollard

Manager Michael O'Neill has presided over three defeats and a draw since taking the reins, but the run of modest results pre-dates his arrival in the hot seat.

Defeat to Russia in last Friday's first World Cup qualifier took the team's winless streak to eight matches -- and their only success in 16 outings came at home to the lowly Faroe Islands over a year ago.

But Rangers utility man Little does not wallow in the numbers.

"I'm not really one for statistics, but there have been quite a few bad ones for Northern Ireland over the years, like the length of time we had without scoring (10 games under Sammy McIlroy)," he said.

"If that's what people like to talk about then maybe it's good pub chat, but it's not something we think about going into games.

"If you look at our starting line-up and the squad we have, we should be performing better, we know that.

"We've had a bad start in Russia but it's a fresh campaign and we can kick on from here.

"Luxembourg will not be easy by any circumstances but home advantage will be key. We have to get a lot more of the ball and take our chances.

"Against Portugal they showed it would be a difficult game for us, but if it is goals we're looking for, I want to contribute to that."

Derby's Jamie Ward made his first start for Northern Ireland in the Moscow clash, selected ahead of the injured Shane Ferguson on the left side of midfield.

Ferguson has rejoined the squad in Belfast after being cleared for duty following groin trouble, but Ward is hoping to get another chance to impress having been asked to curb his natural attacking instincts at the Lokomotiv Stadium.

"I had to do a job for the team and I thought I did it. I worked hard but hopefully this will be a completely different game."

Northern Ireland will hope for good news on Jonny Evans' fitness.

The Manchester United man is being monitored after feeling pain in his ankle during his first 90 minutes of the season against Russia, but O'Neill is confident.

"We have no major concerns over Jonny but we just have to manage him between now and the game," he explained.

"If there's any risk we wouldn't take that risk and neither would Jonny."

Northern Ireland v Luxembourg,

Live, Sky Sports 3, 7.45

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