Belfast Telegraph

We may be hurting but we will be ready for Ukraine: Stuart Dallas

By Paul Ferguson in Lyon

Frustration was etched all over the face of Leeds United winger Stuart Dallas following Sunday night's opening Euro 2016 defeat to Poland in Nice.

Having been overlooked for Northern Ireland's starting line-up, with the more defensive Shane Ferguson given the nod to play left wing back by manager Michael O'Neill, Dallas was forced to watch from the bench in the first half as Poland completely dominated Northern Ireland and only for some fantastic tackles from Gareth McAuley and Jonny Evans, along with a brilliant save from Michael McGovern, they would never have reached the interval on level terms.

The 25-year-old from Cookstown was introduced at half-time, with Paddy McNair withdrawn having struggled to make an impression in a variety of positions.

Dallas though, while naturally disappointed he didn't start the biggest game of his life, especially considering the major part he's played in every competitive game since coming on as a substitute against Finland last March, admits individual aspirations can never eclipse what the manager believes is good for the team.

The former Crusaders starlet concedes: "It was disappointing not to start but it's not about me - we are a team first and foremost and it's the manager's decision. Any player who says they are not disappointed to start is telling lies. I respect the manager's decision. He set out the team the way he wanted us to play, we know we are a good team and good enough to get a result against the likes of Poland. Unfortunately we just couldn't do that."

Poland scored in the 51st minutes through Arkadiusz Milik, but it was really only in the last 20 minutes when O'Neill changed to an attacking 4-3-3 formation, and with substitutes Conor Washington and Jamie Ward on the pitch, that Northern Ireland looked like threatening the Polish goal.

Dallas entered this tournament in great form having been voted the players' player of the year at Elland Road, but he could do little to change the outcome of the game.

Dallas admits: "I am my own biggest critic - I thought I did okay. I didn't get a lot of the ball.

"Unfortunately even when I came on we didn't really create anything but I gave 100% and tried my absolute best. I'm not going to criticise those players in the first half - we may have had a lot more ball than in the first half but we just weren't brave enough and at times and didn't show what we can do.

"But it's not over yet. We are still very much in this tournament."

Ukraine are Northern Ireland's next opponents on Thursday night at the Stade de Lyon. Dallas should be restored to the starting line-up and Northern Ireland will need to produce a much improved performance to even stay in contention. Defeat will end any hopes of progressing, but a draw keeps the dream of qualification to the knock-out stages alive.

"We have got to get a positive result in the next game now but we can do that," says Dallas.

"We are hurting but we will regroup and come back stronger. Everybody is obviously down at the minute but one of the great attributes of this squad is our tremendous team spirit and we will rally round each other, pick ourselves up and be in the right frame of mind come the Ukraine match.

"We'll be ready come Thursday - make no mistake about that."

Belfast Telegraph