Belfast Telegraph

It's another difficult test on the road but we can deliver: McGovern

By Steven Beacom

Goalkeeper Michael McGovern insists Northern Ireland enter Saturday's vital World Cup clash in Azerbaijan in confident mood and can take inspiration from positive away performances during the successful Euro 2016 qualifying campaign.

While Windsor Park has become a fortress recently, form on the road in crunch matches has been impressive too.

McGovern, who has kept four clean sheets in five Group C fixtures to date, says there is no reason why Michael O'Neill's men can't continue in that vein with Northern Ireland in second place in the table. Staying there should guarantee a play-off spot.

"The Azerbaijan match is massive for us. We're relishing the game," said the Norwich City ace.

"We've had the experience of qualifying for the Euros and in the last campaign we went to tough places like Hungary, Greece and the Faroe Islands and got results.

"That experience will definitely hold us in good stead going into the game in Azerbaijan.

"The campaign has been good so far.

"We have given ourselves a platform. It's getting to the business end of the campaign and we've done it before by qualifying for the Euros.

"There's no reason why we can't do it again.

"That's the good thing about it, we know what we're dealing with.

"Obviously, it's going to be difficult in Azerbaijan with the conditions and the time of year, but we won't focus on the negatives.

"We will focus on the positives and what we can do.

"If we play to our maximum, I'm sure we can get a result."

McGovern states that the desire amongst the Northern Ireland players to qualify for back to back tournaments is immense and points to defender Gareth McAuley, fighting to be fit after injury, as an example of that.

"You see the boys like Gareth coming back from injury and trying to get back in in the middle of June. I don't think we've seen that too many times with Northern Ireland," said McGovern.

"It shows that everyone wants to be involved and everyone knows how big this game is. The ultimate aim is to qualify for the World Cup.

"We've had a taste of it at the Euros and to back it up by going to the World Cup would be something special." On the clean sheets in qualifying - McGovern earned another one in Friday night's 1-0 friendly success over New Zealand - the Fermanagh man said: "We've had quite a lot of clean sheets lately and it's great to see.

"It's a real foundation for us and something Michael has wanted to see from us in games.

"Throughout the campaign, we've had that which is a real positive.

"We know if we can keep it tight at the back, we've always got goals in us going forward.

"We work hard off the ball in training.

"We do work really hard on that aspect of the game.

"It's a lot of work on shape, 11 v 11 and structured work on the training pitch.

"We're not the most expansive team and we don't commit everybody forward, but I think we pick and choose the right times to do it.

"That's why we get goals on the break."

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