Belfast Telegraph

Irish League graduates laud boss's brave substitutions

 

Michael Smith
Michael Smith

By Paul Ferguson

Former Irish League aces Gavin Whyte and Michael Smith were united in their praise for manager Michael O'Neill's bold second half substitutions in Tallinn.

Hearts full-back Smith, who spent two years at Ballymena United, was sacrificed as O'Neill introduced winger Jordan Jones into the fray to allow Northern Ireland to be more attack minded.

Allied with fellow replacements Conor Washington and Josh Magennis, all three players made the crucial difference as the men in white roared back from a goal down to claim all three points with a 2-1 win.

"We were chasing the game so you needed to get more forward-thinking players on the pitch," admitted Smith, who started at right back.

"It's done now, we've reaped the rewards and we need to stay on top of the group now with bigger games to come.

"Obviously it's a big game on Tuesday and then there's Germany and Holland to come in September, October, and November. We've done our job here, we were here to win."

Oxford's rising star Whyte, one year after leaving Crusaders, started his first competitive game and was content with his performance, but was grateful to the super subs.

"We didn't really come out of the blocks - we started well but then the first half became a bit shaky," said the 23-year-old.

"We had to change it and we brought on some brilliant subs who changed the game for us. Fair play to them."

Whyte missed the opening round of Euro qualifiers in March against Estonia and Belarus but once Oxford's season was over at the start of May, he worked incredibly hard to make sure he would win his fifth international cap against Estonia at the A Le Coq Arena.

"I found out on Friday (I'd be playing)," added Whyte. "I've been training well all week and even in the camps in Manchester I felt really sharp and I thought I would have a chance of starting - thanks to the manager, Michael, for giving me that chance."

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