Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland will hit back, vows Michael McGovern

By Steven Beacom

Goalkeeper Michael McGovern insists that the Northern Ireland players cannot dwell on the disappointment of losing their opening Euro 2016 game to Poland and believes the team have what it takes to bounce back and beat Ukraine.

McGovern may have had a fine match on Sunday in Nice where his side lost 1-0 to the dominant Poles, but overall his feeling at the finish was one of disappointment.

The Enniskillen native is pleased there is another game to focus on straight away against Ukraine on Thursday in Lyon when he acknowledges Northern Ireland must improve - and win to keep their hopes alive in the tournament. "I don't think we played anywhere near as well as we can against Poland," said the Hamilton number one.

"We can play a lot better. It was all built up to the first game against Poland but we were very disappointed in the way we performed.

"The good thing from our point of view though is that we can go again on Thursday and if we win the next game things look completely different.

"We can't afford to dwell on this for very long we just have to pick the bones out of it and realise where we went wrong.

"We have another opportunity against Ukraine and I feel we can play a lot better and definitely get a result."

There was much debate among the fans about the formation adopted by manager Michael O'Neill, who went with five at the back, a diamond in midfield and Kyle Lafferty on his own up front.

With the Poles dominant from virtually the first whistle, O'Neill had to change positions of certain players and the set-up of his team on several occasions in a bid to get into the game.

It was only approaching the end of the Group C game with Poland sitting deep to pounce on the counter-attack that Northern Ireland, playing substitute Conor Washington alongside Lafferty in attack, looked close to threatening but even then it was not enough.

McGovern felt on the day a draw would have been the best result O'Neill's side could have wished for adding that the players have no problems changing formations during a game.

"I think 0-0 was, the way we played, the best we could have hoped for as I don't think we created that many chances so that is maybe something we have to look at," said the 31-year-old.

"The formation was five defenders, a diamond in midfield with Steven Davis in behind Kyle (Lafferty), but in the second-half we brought Stuart Dallas on for a bit more pace and then Conor (Washington) so we ended up with two up front.

"The players just adapt to the formations, we have been very well prepared and the manager is prepared to play different systems and it's not a problem.

"When you're chasing the game, chasing the result, the formation is always going to change."

Sunday's match was 30 years to the day since Northern Ireland's last match in the finals of a major tournament.

The 1986 World Cup clash with Brazil in Mexico was also Pat Jennings' final cap for his country and his birthday.

McGovern made one outstanding stop in the first half that Jennings would have been proud of and overall had a steady display. He said: "I had one or two saves to make and I actually enjoyed the game. From a personal point of view I felt happy and relaxed and enjoyed the occasion but was disappointed not to keep a clean sheet."

Manchester United youngster Paddy McNair was one of the players affected most by O'Neill's tactical switches.

He was part of a midfield diamond at the start and at one stage was playing in the unfamiliar role just behind striker Lafferty, before being taken off at half-time.

"It was meant to be a diamond in the midfield but we just couldn't get the ball with Poland moving it around very well," said the Ballyclare man.

"It ended up with me playing right wing and then moving to the 10. It was a tough first half.

"Michael said push on a bit more but it was hard to really create anything. It really was frustrating. They are a good side and deserved their win."

On the match with Ukraine, McNair said: "What we must do now is hit back and look forward to Thursday.

"We'll go into the Ukraine game feeling confident. We're in the tournament for a reason because we're good enough so I don't see why we can't get a result in Lyon. It's our first loss in over a year and only my second defeat in a Northern Ireland top in 10 games, but I'm sure we will have a better performance next time."

Belfast Telegraph