Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 2 October 2014

Northern Ireland fans feel Russian victory has only papered over the cracks

Final flourish: Players celebrate Steven Davis' goal in Israel

For Northern Ireland fans the end of this World Cup qualifying campaign couldn't come quickly enough.

Last night's spirited 1-1 draw with Israel failed to mask what was a disappointing series for the Green and White Army.

Outside of the 1-0 victory over Russia in August it was been a campaign to forget, with just one win out of the 10 games.

And the games which really stick in the throat for the fans are the embarrassing away defeats to Luxembourg and Azerbaijan.

It has led some to call for a change of management before qualifying for the European Championships begins, in just under a year.

"I don't see how it's going to be get any better, quite frankly," said Stephen Ferguson.

"Michael O'Neill said he will be better for this experience when the next group comes along, but to be honest there's little evidence of that in this campaign.

"If there was then we would have got better as the group has gone on, but arguably it has been the opposite.

"I was a big fan of Michael O'Neill and what he was doing in the early days, but he'll know it's all about results – especially after two years in the job – and they just haven't been good enough."

Andrew Scullion, from Larne added: "On the whole, the campaign has been a disaster.

"The win against Russia and the draw in Portugal shouldn't paper over the fact that we failed to beat weak opposition like Azerbaijan and Luxembourg in four games. We have underachieved.

"Whoever is in charge, we need to set standards at a higher level and for every player to show the same application for every game, friendlies included.

"Michael O'Neill has been sold short by some senior players at times."

There are, however, some fans who feel Michael O'Neill should given another chance to prove the progress that he feels is just around the corner.

Whitehead man Robert Moore said: "Same old story. We can't seem to motivate ourselves for games where we are favourites it seems we would rather play the 'big boys' and revel in our underdog status.

"Michael O'Neill is still the right man for the next campaign but he would benefit from being able to have a settled squad."

Similarly Aaron Caldwell added: "I don't see what we've got to lose by letting Michael O'Neill carry on in the job.

"If you replace him you're starting from scratch with a manager who will want us to play a different way.

"The one thing the manager has done well in this group is blood some of the youngsters, like Shane Ferguson."

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