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Magennis: Baku will be a defining battle

We have winning mentality, says striker

By Steven Beacom

How times change. Back in 2004 when Norway visited Windsor Park, Northern Ireland lost 4-1 yet the Green and White Army left the stadium that night full of joy because their team had finally scored an international goal after 1298 minutes of trying.

Fast forward to this year and Norway's latest trip to Belfast when they were comfortably despatched 2-0 by Northern Ireland in a World Cup qualifier.

Nobody in the ground expected anything else. And when Michael O'Neill's men travel to Azerbaijan on Saturday for a crucial Group C clash, the players and fans will go through the same thought process: NORTHERN IRELAND WIN.

Striker Josh Magennis says that the team now go into every match believing there will be a positive outcome. There is confidence oozing through the ranks. No fear like back in 2004 or even in the last World Cup qualifying campaign when Northern Ireland couldn't manage to defeat Luxembourg or Azerbaijan home or away. It's all change - for the good.

Already Azerbaijan have been defeated 4-0 at Windsor in this campaign and Magennis, set to play a key role at the weekend, feels he and his team-mates can claim another three points in Baku in their quest to make it to Russia next year.

Using the example of that long scoreless run compared with the present day heroics, the 26-year-old Charlton Athletic striker said: "We really do expect to win every game now. I remember speaking to a fan who said they used to come to watch every Northern Ireland game when the team went a number of games without scoring.

"Now for Northern Ireland to have a team with so much quality and doing so well is amazing.

"Opposition teams know when they are playing Northern Ireland now if they slip up in any department, set pieces, physicality, energy… we're just going to take advantage of that and that's been proven in the last two years."

At the halfway stage, World Champions Germany are almost certain to win Northern Ireland's group and qualify automatically. O'Neill's side are in second, two points ahead of the Czech Republic and three clear of Azerbaijan. No wonder then that Magennis sees Saturday's encounter in Baku as campaign defining.

"Yes, I think it is. It is similar to the Finland game in the last campaign when we knew if we won, we would put ourselves in a very, very strong position," commented Magennis, currently in a training camp in Turkey with the rest of the squad.

"We know if we keep picking up points and keep winning, it puts other teams under pressure and pressure can do crazy things to people. What we also know is that we are playing in a team that genuinely believes we can win every game.

"The Azerbaijan game is massive. It is a fantastic game to be involved in. We go into it on the front foot because we beat them 4-0 at Windsor, but with the climate and the travelling, the food and not having slept in the beds before - wee minor things we take on board that makes us a successful team - we know it will be a big challenge."

On the back of a fine display in Friday's 1-0 friendly win over New Zealand, Magennis will play a crucial role in that challenge.

The ex-Kilmarnock star teamed up with goalscorer Liam Boyce in attack then and is likely to do so again in Baku.

Magennis joked that in the partnership he played the role of Bowser, a tough character in the Nintendo Mario computer game!

"The link up with Boycie was good. We had a joke that I'd be Bowser and he'd be the flair player," the Bangor man said with a big smile.

"It's good to play up with someone and it takes some of the workload off. It's always nice to play alongside someone who reads the game the way Boycie does and the way Laffs (Kyle Lafferty) does.

"The goal was well worked and we had other chances. On another night, if I'd not been finished the season for so long, I would have grabbed a goal myself.

"There is competition for places all and it's great to get on the pitch and put your point across to Michael that when he's picking his starting XI that your name is going to pop up to try and fit into that."

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