Belfast Telegraph

Lyon roar can spur Northern Ireland to vital victory over Ukraine: Craig Cathcart

Extra fans can make the difference says Cathcart as NI squad look to get that winning feeling again

By Steven Beacom

Northern Ireland defender Craig Cathcart has called on the Green and White Army to raise the roof in the crunch Euro 2016 Group C clash with Ukraine in Lyon tonight.

The newly built Parc Olympique Lyonnais arena could have up to 15,000 Northern Ireland supporters inside it this evening outstripping the number of fans (14,000) normally in attendance for the country's home games at Windsor Park.

It promises to be a spectacular occasion in the Lyon stadium which has a 59,000 capacity with Ukraine believed to have asked for no extra tickets than the 11,000 they were originally supplied.

On Sunday in Nice, there was much more of an even split between the Northern Ireland and Polish followers who created a brilliant atmosphere.

The Poland fans left the ground in buoyant mood after seeing their team win 1-0. Tonight Northern Ireland supporters want to experience that winning feeling.

Like this evening's opponents, who lost their opening match 2-0 to Germany, Michael O'Neill's men will kick-off with no points in the group.

The bottom line is that to qualify, probably as one of the top four third placed sides in the six groups, a minimum of three points will be required, so there is that all or nothing feel to the Lyon showdown.

Watford ace Cathcart is well aware of the significance of the outcome and believes the Northern Ireland fans can help prove the difference.

"It was an amazing experience seeing all our fans in Nice," said the defender.

"We went out into the stadium to take a look at the pitch and they were singing even then. It was an incredible occasion.

"We will need that support again against Ukraine because they are a strong team. We should have even more fans at the ground and I know they will roar us on and give us a big lift.

"With Ukraine and us losing our first games both of us will be going for the win. They'll be coming for us just as much as we are going for them. I think that should make for a really good game.

"After the Poland result we know what we have to do now. We need three points and we can't wait for the game. We have to pick ourselves up and take the positives out of the Poland game and look at the negatives and try to work on them and be ready for Ukraine."

Speaking about the defeat to Poland, Cathcart said: "We were disappointed with the result. They came at us in the first half and we couldn't really get out. We rode our luck a bit but at the same time worked really hard with our shape and limited them to very few clean cut chances.

"It was frustrating to concede a goal so quickly in the second half.

"It was a difficult game and for whatever reason we just couldn't get out and cause a threat.

"It took us a while to settle into the game. They got out of the blocks quicker and maybe took us by surprise. As the game went on we got into it and stayed in the match right until the end, and just one or two things didn't go our way when we had a couple of chances."

One of those opportunities arose following a cleverly worked free-kick between Oliver Norwood and Steven Davis which almost led to a late equaliser for the skipper.

It was the only time Northern Ireland's set-pieces caused a threat to the Polish defence.

"I thought the free-kick into Davo was going to bring the equaliser," said Norwood.

"It was something we had been working really hard on before the game but the other two deliveries I put into the box were not good enough.

"I know that. It has to be better because it is an opportunity for us to create chances.

"Fine margins decide games at this level and we have to pick ourselves up and give it everything we've got against Ukraine.

Norwood admitted when Northern Ireland adopted a more attacking approach late in the game, after Poland had gone ahead in the 51st minute, that was when the team started to look stronger.

"We possibly looked more comfortable with the system in the second half but we seemed to spark into life after they scored," said the Reading midfielder.

"We played with freedom but it can't take the opposition to score for us to start to play.

"It was the first goal we've conceded in five games. It hurts that we've lost, but we have two more games to put things right.

"We want to be able to compete at this level and we will find a way to do that."

Belfast Telegraph