Belfast Telegraph

I'm so frustrated but NI aren't too far away from clicking: Saville


Right direction: Northern Ireland’s George Saville races for possession with Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Muhamed Besic
Right direction: Northern Ireland’s George Saville races for possession with Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Muhamed Besic
George Saville

By Paul Ferguson

George Saville was crestfallen as he made his way out of the Stadion Grbavica late on Monday night.

It's sadly something Saville has become accustomed to in competitive matches for Northern Ireland.

Since making his international debut against Germany this time last year, Saville has been unable to help Northern Ireland win in World Cup or Nations League action.

But it's the manner in which Northern Ireland have been unable to secure victory or even sometimes a draw which is most infuriating for the former Chelsea trainee.

In his first full start in Oslo last year he missed a couple of good chances to open his international goalscoring account as Norway won 1-0, then came the controversial penalty decision against Corry Evans in the first leg of the World Cup play-off at Windsor Park which handed Switzerland a crucial 1-0 victory.

In Basel three days later, Northern Ireland produced a remarkable battling performance, much improved on their first-leg showing, but couldn't find a breakthrough, with Jonny Evans having an effort cleared off the line in the dying minutes which would have taken the game into extra-time and the momentum with O'Neill's men.

Fast forward 10 months and Northern Ireland were at their dominant best against Bosnia and Herzegovina at Windsor Park, playing a new high line style of football that was so attractive on the eye allowing for plenty of chances to be created. But two defensive errors led to Bosnia leaving Belfast with a 2-1 victory.

In Vienna last Friday night, Northern Ireland, while on the backfoot for a period of play, had four glorious opportunities to score, with Will Grigg's header in the last few minutes of the game striking the post when it appeared destined to end up in the back of the net. Prior to that, with Jamal Lewis being caught out and playing Marko Arnautovic onside, the Austrian talisman used his power and pace to fend off Paddy McNair to score and give his side a 1-0 win.

On Monday night in Sarajevo, Northern Ireland struck the post three times and Saville could have claimed a first-half hat-trick if he'd converted the chances that fell his way. But still Northern Ireland couldn't score, and when poor young full-back Lewis slipped, home favourite Edin Dzeko made sure he took full advantage by netting the opener and then sealed victory with a terrific curling finish in the second half as the men in white pushed forward in search of an equaliser.

"Another frustrating night for all of us and a hard one to take," summed up a deflated Saville (right) after the 2-0 defeat.

"It's a similar story to the home game at Windsor Park where we played well, had chances and have not taken them. Ultimately we are going to get punished at this level and that's what happened.

"But we honestly believe we are as good as Austria and Bosnia.

"On Monday we played well in patches, and even at 1-0 down we had chances. If we had taken them, I honestly believe we would have gone on to win. We need to start taking our chances and start winning matches."

Saville was bitterly disappointed he was unable to open his international goalscoring account in Sarajevo, especially having been played in brilliantly by Steven Davis for his second opportunity and then using great technique to volley towards goal only to see the ball come off the upright.

"Sometimes they go in and sometimes they don't," sighed Surrey-born Saville, who qualifies for Northern Ireland through his Enniskillen-born grandmother.

"You just have to keep going - obviously I feel I have got to do better with the second chance, and then hitting the post, that's just fine margins. On another night that goes in, but it's just frustrating. We're still going to keep working, keep trying and we'll look forward to next month."

Saville doesn't feel Northern Ireland are too far away, especially if they can cut out the defensive errors and be clinical in front of goal.

"There's been individual errors that have allowed them into the match. We dominated for periods, had chances and should have been winning and then we added to our own downfall in a way.

"We just need to keep working and I'm sure our luck will change and we'll start winning matches."

Saville and his team-mates flew back to the UK yesterday morning so they could return to their clubs ahead of this weekend's league fixtures.

The 25-year old, having signed on loan for Middlesbrough from Millwall until January which will then trigger a permanent move to the Riverside Stadium, has been drafted in to play an important role in Boro's promotion push.

But he already has one eye on the next international break and a huge friendly with neighbours the Republic of Ireland at the Aviva Stadium.

He added: "I'm going to have to put this (international football) on hold for a while and get back to Middlesbrough and pick up some wins, start winning football matches and trying to play well for Middlesbrough.

"Then the (Republic of Ireland match) will be on the horizon and that is a football match we need to win. We owe it to the fans."

Victory over Martin O'Neill's side wouldn't improve Northern Ireland's recent competitive record, however for some supporters it may be even more important than the Nations League games.

It could provide Northern Ireland with the momentum they need and, as long as Bosnia beat Austria in their next game, Michael O'Neill's charges still have a chance of avoiding relegation in the final Nations League clash against the Austrians on November 18.

Saville is certainly hoping his and Northern Ireland's luck has a dramatic change for the better soon.

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