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No more slip-ups, only a win for Northern Ireland over Faroe Islands will do ... we all know it


Painful memory: Faroe Islands striker Christian Holst celebrates scoring their first goal of the game during the UEFA Euro 2012 Qualifying match at Svangaskard, Toftir

Painful memory: Faroe Islands striker Christian Holst celebrates scoring their first goal of the game during the UEFA Euro 2012 Qualifying match at Svangaskard, Toftir

Painful memory: Faroe Islands striker Christian Holst celebrates scoring their first goal of the game during the UEFA Euro 2012 Qualifying match at Svangaskard, Toftir

New pitch, new stadium on the way and a new found confidence. With all that going on, Northern Ireland must not fall victim to the same old story and fail to win when they really should.

Tonight at Windsor Park Michael O'Neill's team HAVE to beat the Faroe Islands. Plain and simple.

Sailing to a comfortable 4-0 victory, as was the case the last time the Faroes were here, would be wonderful, but to build on the strong foundations laid down in Hungary last month, the bottom line is that any win will do.

No other result would be acceptable. The fans know it, the players know it and so does the manager.

This is a massive match for O'Neill.

He's a decent bloke and, without question, the hardest working Northern Ireland boss I've dealt with, though some supporters will tell you he is lucky to still be in the job after the hugely disappointing World Cup qualifying campaign.

I've never been shy in saying when it is time for our international bosses to go - ask Lawrie McMenemy, Sammy McIlroy and Nigel Worthington - but even after the humiliation of losing away to Luxembourg and Azerbaijan I backed O'Neill to be given another two years.

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Why? Well, on the surface too many of the results may have been rubbish, but under it I could sense that he was doing a lot of things right, such as his dealings with the players, the style of play he was trying to introduce and his determination to look to the future by bringing in youth coaches like Stephen Robinson, Stephen Craigan and David Healy, who are all passionate about Northern Ireland and who our gifted kids could relate to.

The Irish FA agreed. Michael was the right man to take the country forward and a contract extension was signed, sealed and delivered.

The feeling, quite rightly, at Windsor Avenue, however, was that as well as continuing his excellent efforts behind the scenes, the 45-year-old from Ballymena needed to take the nation centre stage and start putting a winning team out on the pitch.

So far, so good. O'Neill's men won 2-1 in Hungary to kick off the Euro 2016 qualifiers in fabulous fashion. The football they played was just as welcome as the outcome with Kyle Lafferty, back in the squad after a year-long absence and a few conversations with the boss, an inspirational figure in the success.

The victory has given the Green and White Army hope again.

One swallow may not make a summer, but in football one win can change everything and the supporters will make their way to Windsor tonight believing that the good times are ready to roll again.

That brings its own pressure, especially with the opposition being a team made up of mostly part-time footballers, who work nine to five jobs.

Northern Ireland are expected to collect maximum points with something to spare.

Hence the reason why this is such a big game for the manager.

In a qualifying match he has yet to lead Northern Ireland to a win over what is termed a minnow in European football. There were those desperate defeats in Luxembourg and Azerbaijan and we could only manage 1-1 draws with the pair of them at Windsor Park.

No one was mentioning those games after the final whistle blew in Budapest, but rest assured the supporters will be talking about them again if the Faroes aren't dealt with tonight.

It's worth remembering that it was a dreadful result against the Faroe Islands which proved to be the beginning of the end for Worthington.

In the last Euro campaign, his Northern Ireland team made an impressive start, winning in Slovenia and then drawing at home to Italy.

Four points out of six from two tough games and hope swirling all around.

The next match was in the Faroes when Worthington was too negative and Northern Ireland were fortunate to depart with a 1-1 draw.

The Northern Ireland supporters were livid. The anger inside bubbled away for the rest of the campaign until their frustrations and fury boiled over in an infamous night in Tallinn when Worthington's team lost 4-1 to Estonia.

Never before has a Northern Ireland boss took so much abuse. To his credit, Nigel maintained his dignity throughout, but he knew there was no way back, eventually jumping before he was pushed.

I like to think that Northern Ireland fans have learnt that no manager, no matter how bad results get, deserves the treatment dished out to Worthington - a super servant as a player.

Even so, it's worth stating: Beware the curse of the Faroes, Michael.

And also to be positive and go and try to win the game early, ensuring that the 10,000 crowd and, indeed, the players don't become impatient and tense as the minutes tick by. That would only play into the hands of our visitors.

Roy Carroll, Steven Davis, Gareth McAuley and the boys should have six points out of six after tonight, Northern Ireland might even top the Group F table, and our wee country would be well on track to qualify for a first major tournament in 30 years. And the manager would be on course to become a sporting legend in these parts.

Come on Northern Ireland, keep the hope alive.

Prediction: Northern Ireland 3 Faroe Islands 0.

Facts and figures: a few talking points ahead of the big qualifying game tonight

  • The last time Northern Ireland won their opening two qualifying games was in 1968, in the qualifying series for the 1970 World Cup in Mexico. They won their first outing of the group 4-1 v Turkey in Belfast in October and followed that up with a 3-0 victory over the same opponents two months later in Istanbul.
  •  If the Faroes score at Windsor on Saturday it will be the 500th goal Northern Ireland will have conceded in 277 international matches at home since 1882.
  •  The 14 goals scored by Northern Ireland under current manager Michael O'Neill have been equally dispersed between the first and second half of the games played so far.
  •  This will be Northern Ireland's 50th qualifying game at Windsor Park. Of the previous 49, 23 have been won nine drawn and 17 have ended in defeat.
  •  Paddy McCourt has played the full 90 minutes in only three of his 14 Internationals. In total he has played just 473 minutes of international football since making his debut v Spain back in April 2002. Incidentally, it took nearly seven years before he managed to win his second cap for Northern Ireland.
  • Only three Northern Ireland players have scored hat-tricks in European Championship qualifiers. They are: George Best v Cyprus (h-5-0) 21.04.1971; Colin Clarke v Faroe Islands (n-5-0) 11.09.1991; David Healy v Spain (h-3-2) 06.09.2006; David Healy v Liechtenstein (a-4-1) 24.03.2007.
  •  Northern Ireland's last 23 European Championship qualifiers have produced nine victories (six at home and three away), five draws and nine defeats.
  •  If central defender Gareth McAuley plays against the Faroes and Greece he will become the 32nd player to reach the 50-cap milestone for Northern Ireland.
  • Northern Ireland have failed to score in only one of their last six internationals at Windsor Park; that was against Israel in March last year.
  •  St Johnstone's Alan Mannus has played more minutes of first team football this season than any other member of the Northern Ireland squad.
  • If they play, central defender Aaron Hughes will win his 92nd cap to move him into third place in the all-time appearance table, while Chris Baird could win his 67th cap to be put him in joint 11th spot with Dave McCreery.
  •  Hallur Hannson has scored three goals in his last five international outings for the Faroe Islands, while Christian Holst has scored three in his last two.
  •  Fróði Benjaminsen and Christian Holst have both scored six goals for the Faroes and are fourth in the all-time scorers list.
  •  Since the Faroe Islands lost 4-0 at Windsor Park, Belfast in August 2011 they have played 17 internationals matches, losing 15, drawing one and winning just the one.

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