Belfast Telegraph

Michael McGovern and Stuart Dallas step up for Northern Ireland

By Ian Cahoon

With the tame appetiser out of the way, Northern Ireland fans now can't wait to get stuck into Sunday's main course.

A smaller contingent than usual of the Green and White Army crossed the Irish Sea for last night's 1-0 defeat. However, it's now all eyes on Sunday's Euro 2016 qualifier against Finland at Windsor Park.

Michael Phillips from Belfast believes boss Michael O'Neill has unearthed a new candidate for the number one jersey.

"I thought Michael McGovern was the man of the match," he said.

"It will be a big positive for the manager to know that he has another keeper who is capable of playing at that level.

"Roy Carroll isn't getting any younger and you never know what happens with injuries so that was a bonus.

"Going forward it was a bit of a non-event. To not have a shot on target is pretty embarrassing, but friendly results won't matter much at the end of the day."

Gordon Campbell felt that Stuart Dallas grabbed his big chance to impress ahead of Sunday's vital qualifier.

"Out of all the new lads I was most impressed with Dallas," he added. "I think if we had more of a first choice midfield playing he would have thrived on passes from Steven Davis.

"I'd like to see him involved in some way against Finland, he looks like a useful option from the bench at least.

"Michael McGovern did well in goal too and he kept us in it a bit in the first half, so he is pushing for a spot as well."

While half a dozen fringe players got their opportunity, Gary Clarke would have liked to have seen Northern Ireland go with more of a full strength side at Hampden last night.

He said: "The players haven't been together for about four months so the more time they can get playing together the better.

"With Scotland playing on Sunday as well I doubt the tackles would have been flying in, so it could have got us used to playing together again.

"I can see why Michael O'Neill took the chance to blood some new players though. Some of them won't have done themselves any harm at all."

With stars like Gareth McAuley, Steven Davis and Kyle Lafferty rested, although Davis was brought on for the last 20 minutes, Belfast man Aaron Nelson believes the defeat exposed Northern Ireland's lack of strength in depth.

"It was a reminder of how little depth we have in the squad when some of the mainstays are taken out," he said.

"None of the guys let themselves down, but you're mainly asking guys from League One to make the step-up to international football against a decent side like Scotland."

Meanwhile, David Healy is still enjoying that winning feeling with Northern Ireland after leading the fans' team to victory against their Scottish opponents in a fixture organised by lead sponsors of both nations, Vauxhall.

Healy's boys won 6-3, allowing the Killyleagh man to get one over on his former Preston manager Craig Brown who was in charge of the Scotland fans.

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