Belfast Telegraph

Jamie Ward driven by burning desire to repay O'Neill

By Steven Beacom

Jamie Ward is intent on continuing to repay the faith shown in him by Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill.

And that means bad news for Romania at Windsor Park on Saturday.

Ward has been one of the eye catching performers for Northern Ireland in the Euro 2016 qualifying campaign so far and his combination with full-back Conor McLaughlin on the right flank has worked a treat.

They will be out to cause problems for the Romanians at the weekend in the top of the table Group F encounter when a win for the home side would take them a huge step closer to next year's finals in France.

Ward, without a club at present after being released by Derby County, has become a regular under O'Neill and is relishing the game time which did not come his way under previous boss Nigel Worthington.

"I always found it frustrating coming away and not playing under the last regime," said Ward.

"I'm just one of the people who wants to play football. I'm no good at sitting on the bench and coming on as a substitute.

"Michael has taken me under his wing. He has obviously seen something in me that he likes and that Nigel Worthington didn't see. It's great for me.

"I like to think I'm repaying his faith in my performances for the team. We all really like Michael and we want to do well for him.

"The lads have a lot of confidence in Michael and we want to do well for him, even more so than for ourselves.

"He had it tough in his first campaign as manager and results didn't go our way, but hopefully this campaign can be something special for everyone.

"The lads also know he wants to play football which is better than kicking it long, chasing it and stuff like that. I'm enjoying it."

Ward missed the 2-0 defeat to Romania in Bucharest in November - Northern Ireland's only loss in five Group F fixtures - but is confident the team can turn that result around.

"We know Romania have quality in their team and that's why they're sitting top of the group. We know it's going to be another tough game against them in Belfast," said the 29-year-old.

"We'll obviously have a gameplan and if we stick to what Michael wants us to do, I think we should be OK. It's important our performance reaches the same heights as they have in recent games.

"The belief is there that we can reach the Euro finals, but we can't look beyond this game."

Pressed on what would be required to qualify, Ward said seven more points to add to the 12 already secured should do it.

And on his successful link with right back McLaughlin, Ward added: "I've said before, Conor is probably playing at a level he's too good for. I just think someone needs to take a gamble on him to get him a move which is sometimes the hardest thing in football.

"I'm sure if he keeps working hard he'll get it. We've struck up a good partnership and I hope we can continue that and put in more performances.

"He likes bombing on which is great for me, because at times it takes the defender away and gives me the chance to capitalise."

Belfast Telegraph