Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 20 April 2014

Young squad can only benefit if the boss carries on, claims Taylor

Backing boss: Michael O'Neill has received the support of Maik Taylor

Anybody who knows anything about Maik Taylor would know that fierce loyalty is one of many laudable qualities he brings to the game, but there is more than that at play when he argues that Michael O'Neill should be offered a new deal as Northern Ireland manager.

An extension to O'Neill's initial two-year contract seemed little more than a formality when Martin Paterson's header delivered a heartening victory over Russia in August, but things have veered badly off track since then.

Two red cards scuppered a potential upset over Portugal and what followed was almost unthinkable – twin defeats in Luxembourg and Azerbaijan.

Questions over O'Neill's future are therefore legitimate, but with the former Shamrock Rovers boss has been laying unseen foundations behind the scenes, while also overseeing a changing of the guard in the senior team.

Taylor, who is currently working as the team's goalkeeping coach, is in no doubt that he must be allowed to see the job through.

"I strongly believe the way forward is with Michael at the helm and leading us into the Euros," said Taylor.

"I really feel if he carries on then everyone will be better for that continuity. It is a period of transition at the moment. It's a young squad and although the results haven't always come the lads have set a standard of performance – getting the win against Russia, going very close to a result against Portugal.

"It's going to take time, no question. You have to keep believing; that's the key.

"Some of the young lads coming in to the national side are not even playing club football, but we have a small pool of players and it's not as though we can go out and sign someone, so you do the best you can.

"Michael is very, very passionate. He's hurting as much, if not more, than anyone else. I've been very impressed with him in the four games since I've been involved."

It may seem old hat after the disappointments of the campaign to reflect so often on good performances and unfortunate results, but Taylor believes that is a fair reading of events.

"If you take the blip in Luxembourg out of it the performances in all the other games – irrespective of the results – have been strong.

"We've had no rub of the green at all. Usually you find a win from somewhere and you think 'we got lucky tonight' but that hasn't happened so far. The win against Russia was well deserved and we should have a lot more points on the board with our performances

"Aside from Luxembourg, it's there for all to see that the team are making good strides forward and taking on board what Michael and (assistant manager) Billy McKinlay are trying to get through."

One of the aspects that the management team have seen significant success with is in players reporting for international duty en masse.

There may be some frustration that Jonny Evans and Gareth McAuley will both miss Tuesday's clash against Israel due to unnecessary suspensions, but the attendance record of senior players has increased appreciably since O'Neill's arrival.

"That's been pleasing, even more so after the disappointing result in Luxembourg," said Taylor.

"The fact that everyone turned up this week – barring Aaron Hughes who was injured – is testament to the fact that they are all on board with what Michael is trying to achieve."