Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland boss Michael O'Neill hails new goal-den boy Conor Washington

By Steven Beacom

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill hailed the hunger and desire of Conor Washington after the QPR striker's winning goal against Slovenia created history for the country.

Washington netted in the first half on his Windsor Park debut and in only his second international to become an instant hero as Northern Ireland won 1-0 to extend their unbeaten run to a record-breaking 10 games.

O'Neill was delighted to make history and even more pleased with the qualities shown by Washington, who is now a certainty to make the 23-man squad for the Euro finals.

Read more: Arlene Foster and Martin McGuinness celebrate Northern Ireland's record-breaking Slovenia win

"The first time I saw Conor play was against Luton in the second round of the FA Cup and he scored a goal in the exact same area of the pitch," said O'Neill.

"He loves to get into a tussle with a centre-back and the physical side of the game. Equally when he gets in there he has the ability to show a bit of quality.

"You could see what Conor is about, that rawness, that power, that pace, sometimes you don't get that from players who are in a development system from a very young age.

"He has those attributes, which are refreshing to see as a coach, he's so hungry to learn and keen to do well. It's great.

"For a player who has just come into the squad, the reaction from the other members of the team to see him scoring shows how well he's fitting in."

On beating a record previously held by two Billy Bingham sides in the 80s who went nine games unbeaten in-a-row, O'Neill stated: "It's been a good night and a good week. If you take it into context, it's been a really good year.

"The record is great for this group of players. There's players that have gone 10 games without a win, the opposite side of that, and played in bad times. We're in this moment, we want it to last as long as we can keep it there.

"It's nice for me because Billy Bingham was the manager who gave me my debut at 18 years of age, he believed in me at a young age. I've tried to take that into management in terms of giving players opportunities.

"Getting the record is a significant milestone for this squad. I think you can see that in how they've performed. We've played better, but there was a great appetite to make sure we won the game.

"Roy Carroll made a good penalty save and we defended superbly in the second half. It's very encouraging. When we go to France we won't be the most talented team in the finals, but our job is to have them the best organised.

"I think you'll go a long way to find a team with as big a heart. We have to continue to develop that."

O'Neill praised the focus of his players to adapt to different styles, such as the 3-5-2 that he operated last night.

"For some of them it was new, to come in and play 3-5-2, they don't play it that often at their clubs...you really need that focus," he added.

"We've got that. I see it now at a greater level than the four years I've been in charge. That comes with belief and success.

"I think the players are adaptable and they are starting to think about the game a lot more than maybe they did previously."

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