Belfast Telegraph

Gerry Armstrong: Michael O'Neill pulled off a tactical masterstroke as Northern Ireland proved squad depth in Estonia

Michael O'Neill
Michael O'Neill

By Gerry Armstrong in the Sunday Life

It's hats off to Michael O'Neill. Just when it seemed our Euro 2020 qualifying hopes were heading for the buffers, he came up trumps by making three substitutions to pull the game out of the fire.

He must take loads of credit for the victory over Estonia. He knew what he had on the bench and he made the right calls at the right time.

I think he may make even more changes for the Belarus game on Tuesday. Michael knows he has so many impact players to call on and I've never known the squad to be so well off for boys who can come on and change a game.

We used to have maybe one, perhaps two. Now we have five or six. He's got a good squad and I like what I see. They play good football and they deserved three points in Estonia last night.

They finished the strong and fitter of the two teams.

It was a great last 20 minutes and we ran them ragged. You could visibly see the Estonians tiring.

Jordan Jones and Gavin Whyte caused them numerous problems. The change at half time, bringing on Conor Washington for Liam Boyce was a masterstroke.

He has more pace than Boycie and he was a better target man. I thought we were comfortable for the first 20 minutes or so, but once we scored, we looked really ragged.

The goal was a mistake. The wall wasn't right. You can't score direct from a free kick, bending it around the wall from that distance. So, someone got it wrong. I don't know who lined up the wall, but it wasn't done well.

Whether it was young Bailey Peacock-Farrell, or the lads in the wall. Paddy McNair was the last man, but he turned slightly side on. No matter what way you look at it, it was a mistake.

We were a different team over the last 25 minutes. Michael did really well with his substitutions, Conor Washington and Josh Magennis made an impact and both scored goals.

I know Josh wanted to claim both, but I think the first one will be credited to Conor, and rightly so because he did fantastically well to create the chance.

Jordan Jones missed a great chance right at the finish. His performance deserved a goal. The ball just crept past the post, when he possibly should have scored.

We certainly created a lot chances in the second half and we were more ruthless in front of goal when it mattered.

They were our first goals away from home in two years. Going into the game, we hadn't won or scored in our last seven games away from Windsor Park. I think September 2017 was the last time we managed it.

Although a lot of people were writing us off, I really thought if we got a goal back, we'd get a second, and that's the way it turned out. I was so pleased it all worked out well.

But they must do it all again against Belarus on Tuesday. I think Belarus will be a more difficult game, but we still have the players and the quality to get another three points.

There is no doubt, the team will have more belief after this latest win.

Belfast Telegraph


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