Belfast Telegraph

Five things we learned from Northern Ireland's defeat to Bosnia & Herzegovinia

Northern Ireland's George Saville (right) and Bosnia and Herzegovina's Elvis Saric battle for the ball.
Northern Ireland's George Saville (right) and Bosnia and Herzegovina's Elvis Saric battle for the ball.

Northern Ireland have plenty of positives to take from their opening UEFA Nations League clash, and a few negatives as well.

Graham Luney was there. Here's his take on it...

1. Jamal’s a real gem

Jamal Lewis, making his competitive debut, impressed at left back in an area of the pitch which has been a problem for Northern Ireland, not helped by Chris Brunt’s departure. But the Norwich City man was a cool customer and linked up well with Stuart Dallas. He could have reacted quicker for the first Bosnia goal but his all round showing was excellent and he’s going to be a reliable performer for Northern Ireland. It was a more mature and solid performance than his debut against South Korea.

2. You can’t switch off

The Northern Ireland defence lost concentration twice and were ruthlessly punished, even by a side not considered among the best in the world. At this level of the game you cannot doze off for a second and expect to get away with it. The defenders were static for the first goal and the second one was disastrous and a cruel introduction to competitive international football for keeper Bailey Peacock-Farrell. Craig Cathcart’s header back was ill advised too.

Elvis Saric celebrates scoring Bosnia's second goal

3. Saville’s on fire

George Saville showed why Middlesbrough spent £8m on him. Alongside Oliver Norwood and Steven Davis, the former Millwall ace oozed class and composure. In the first half, in particular, he had the Bosnian players on the run but the only disappointing aspect of his performance was a lack of clinical finishing when the chances came. He wasn’t alone on that score.

George Saville is clipped in the opening minute by Bosnia & Herzegovina's Ervin Zukanovic.

4. It’s an uphill struggle

Win and Northern Ireland would have momentum and a chance of making the semi-finals of the Nations League but with two tough trips ahead against Austria and Bosnia and Herzegovina next month, they have a mountain to climb. It’s important they find a ruthless streak again as more poor results could dent confidence and affect their seeding for the Euro 2020 qualifiers. They will need even more character and fighting spirt in the challenges ahead.

Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill was impressed with his side despite defeat to Bosnia (Brian Lawless/PA)

5. Number one concern

Before the game there was a feeling young Leeds United keeper Peacock-Farrell would grab his chance to make the number one jersey his own with a solid performance. Unfortunately it didn’t turn out that way as he allowed Elvis Saric to pounce on Craig Cathcart’s backward header. A first competitive appearance and not one he’ll remember with particular fondness but he will learn from it and emerge stronger. Trevor Carson and Michael McGovern wait in the wings.

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Northern Ireland goalkeeper Bailey Peacock-Farrell warms up.

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