Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland 'have to shake off defensive shackles for Ukraine'

By Ian Cahoon

Defeat in Nice last night failed to deflate the feel-good factor which has been growing among the Northern Ireland fans of late.

Around 10,000 members of the Green and White Army were inside the Stade de Nice and produced an atmosphere they would have been proud at Windsor Park.

The 1-0 defeat obviously wasn't what they were hoping for, but they retain plenty of hope ahead of Thursday's game against Ukraine in Lyon.

Reflecting on last night's game many of the fans who had made the trip to the French Rivera felt boss Michael O'Neill was too cautious in his approach.

Belfast man Roy McGivern said: "I was disappointed in the first half to be honest.

"We had played so well in the friendly games leading up to this and looked threatening. I thought we looked quite scared of them in the first half and we just didn't have any threat.

"Michael changed things in the second half, he was bolder and the three players who came on all looked threatening.

"All three will be looking to start against Ukraine and he'll have to look to change it, you can't play so many defensive midfielders.

"If we lose that game it's probably tournament over, with Germany still to come."

Andy Scullion, from Larne, also felt the first half performance was a disappointment.

"I thought we tried to play to try to nullify their strengths as opposed to playing to ours and it didn't really work," he added.

"When we went back to the tactics that served us well in the past, we got into the game more and showed that we might have been able to get something from the game. Despite the result, it was an incredible occasion to be part of and everything I imagined it would be.

"All we need now is a couple of good results to top it all off."

Ahoghill man Phil Cromie has also made the trip to France to see Northern Ireland in a major tournament for the first time in 30 years.

He said: "It was a great day and a great atmosphere.

"I think it was probably a fair enough result, they always looked a bit more dangerous than us going forward.

"There has been a great atmosphere around the city, the fans have been mixing really well and I can't wait for the rest of the tournament."

Thousands of fans have soaked up the tournament atmosphere in Nice throughout the weekend.

Northern Ireland and Poland fans were freely mixing at the fan zone and throughout the city, swapping songs and in a stark contrast to scenes before and after England's opening game in Marseille.

"We have been in Nice since Friday and the atmosphere about the place has been brilliant," Stuart Jackson, from Carrickfergus, said.

"Polish fans and Northern Ireland fans have been mixing and getting on the way it should be."

Belfast Telegraph