Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland boss Michael O'Neill starting to dream again after Norway are put to sword

By Liam Blackburn

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill praised his side's battling qualities following the World Cup qualifying victory over Norway.

First-half goals from Jamie Ward and Conor Washington earned O'Neill's men a 2-0 victory at Windsor Park.

The result leaves Northern Ireland second in Group C, two points above Czech Republic and five behind leaders Germany.

"It was a fantastic performance, I couldn't have asked any more," O'Neill said.

"It was a very competitive game. Norway played very direct and we had to deal with that.

"I thought we competed fantastically and we played some very good football as well.

"To a man, they were fantastic."

Northern Ireland have not qualified for a World Cup since 1986 but O'Neill believes his side are well-placed to reach next summer's tournament in Russia.

"It's a great result for us, a great position we're in now," he added.

"There's still a lot of football to played but when you get to this point, we've had five games, four clean sheets.

"The only team to score against us was the world champions and we've scored 10 goals at home so there's a lot of positives in this campaign.

"We just want to maintain the form that we're in and make sure when the Germans come here and the Czech Republic come here that we've a couple of special nights to look forward to.

"With 10 points we know a win at Azerbaijan will put us six points clear of them and now we're seven points clear of Norway.

"So we're looking at the Czech Republic and they are looking at us.

"We believe we can reach the World Cup. We have a great home record and the only team to score against us in the group are the world champions."

Ward's goal after 87 seconds set them on their way and QPR's Washington fired in a third international goal, all of which have come in his three Belfast starts, in the 32nd minute.

O'Neill added: "Both lads give you that energy at top end of the pitch.

"Conor goes to look for the ball and fight for the ball and Jamie does the same. When you have that energy the rest of the team follows on.

"We spoke about using their movement to get between their two centre backs which we felt was their weakness."

On key defender Gareth McAuley battling through injury to play the full game, he added: "We didn't want to bring him off because we would have had to change the system.

"He is a warrior."

Skipper Steven Davis hailed a perfect start with the early goal and a professional performance which sealed the victory.

"We couldn't have asked to get off to a better start and then it was a professional performance," said the Southampton ace.

"It was difficult in the second half between pushing on and sitting back, but we did it well. It was really good performance in the first half and we saw it though in the second.

"Time will tell about the importance of this win.

"We know we have to be consistent and win our home games.

"This win sets up nicely for the trip to Azerbaijan in June."

Victory means Northern Ireland have now lost just one of the past 11 qualifying matches.

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