Belfast Telegraph

It's time to get excited, France here come Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland fans are beginning to plan their route to France.

The 2-1 win over Finland at Windsor Park has strengthened the belief of fans who are desperate to make their first trip to a major tournament in 30 years.

It has left the Green & White Army in dreamland, and they were quick to heap the plaudits on Michael O'Neill's men.

Following his brace, praise for Kyle Lafferty's was the main talking point.

"Kyle Lafferty is finally beginning to fulfill his potential," Belfast man Carl Johnstone said.

"For years we saw glimpses of what he could do and then he'd pick up an injury or suspension and it was back to square one.

"He took the two goals superbly and when you have a goalscorer you have a chance, that's the same at any level of football.

"All in all it was a huge win to be honest, not just for where it leaves us in the group, but because there was a lot of expectation before hand.

"Normally when we're expected to do well we fall short - but last night we did the business."

Robert Moore, from Whitehead, believes yesterday's result was indicative of the spirit in the current squad at present.

"We got an insight into the spirit within the camp on Saturday morning during a wonderful piece on Football Focus where another hero Carl Frampton met the squad," he said.

"This group know they have the opportunity of a lifetime and they showed that attitude and enthusiasm against Finland. Kyle Lafferty will, quite rightly, get the headlines but there were many other individuals who deserve so much credit for that performance today.

"Michael O'Neill's decision to leave out Aaron Hughes paid off and goes to show the strength in depth we currently have.

"We have fought and battled for each and every one of these 12 points. 30 years on from Mexico 1986 we can now start to dream of France 2016!"

With fellow challengers Hungary dropping points, Michael McCowan pointed out that it was the perfect day.

He said: "We allowed them to play out from the back far too easily for the first 15 mins but pressing higher up the pitch after that made the difference.

"Jamie Ward should have scored and Lafferty took his two goals well. We never did a lot in the second half, but I think we missed Davis in the middle.

"At the end of the day it's job done, and with Hungary drawing it has been an excellent day!"

Andy Scullion, from Larne, however felt there was room for improvement.

He said: "The result is the main thing, and getting the win is massive but to be honest, we played well for only about 20 minutes of that.

"I just think we did enough to win the game and not a jot more. Why not keep exploiting their weakness down their left side and make the game completely safe? Maybe I'm being overly negative but I think we could have done better today, it wasn't perfect by any means."

Belfast Telegraph