Belfast Telegraph

It was the best response, says NI manager Michael O'Neill

By Graham Luney

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill felt the 3-0 friendly victory over Israel was the perfect confidence booster after the frustrating defeat to Bosnia and Herzegovina on Saturday.

Despite dominating Saturday's contest, O'Neill's side lost their Nations League opener 2-1 but this performance and result has lifted spirits and morale ahead of the away Nations League double header against Austria and Bosnia next month.

Goals from Steven Davis, Stuart Dallas and Gavin Whyte, with the first touch on his debut, sealed the comfortable win.

O'Neill was full of praise for his men and was all smiles after their weekend frustrations.

"I think it was the best response from us after Saturday," said O'Neill.

"In many ways it felt like, particularly in the first half, we played better on Saturday. It was everything - the result was important, you talk about getting back to winning ways, we certainly did that.

"The positive aspect was we didn't really give them too many chances at all. We gave two goalkeepers 45 minutes with clean sheets and there were lots of performances to be delighted with.

"Dallas, Davis, they've not been playing at their clubs so for them to come and play as they did is brilliant. I thought Jamal Lewis again was excellent so a lot of really good developments to reflect on.

"We played Paddy McNair at right back and you see what Paddy can bring to the team in that position and what he gives you attacking wise. There are still things he's got to learn to play that position but there are a lot of positives."

Northern Ireland may not have created as many chances as they did on Saturday, or bossed possession to anywhere near the same extent, but they did create cleaner openings which they could take advantage of.

"Maybe that's down to Bosnia as well," O'Neill said. "They defended well, defended in numbers and were strong in that aspect. The game was different because there was probably more space at times. We weren't dominating and playing in their half so things did open up for us."

O'Neill said in the build-up to the game how impressed he had been with Whyte's improvement since his summer move from Crusaders to Oxford United and he certainly wasted no time in making an impact.

"Gavin has an eye for goal and in a wide player that's a great ability to have," O'Neill said.

"He was consistently a double-figure goalscorer when he was here, he's already got three goals in six for Oxford and now he's opened his international career with a goal so that's a big plus for us."

The return of Northern Ireland's set piece magic was also a welcome footnote.

"We always look at the opposition and how they set themselves up on corners and we worked today on the training pitch and see if we can get this opportunity," added O'Neill.

"George was probably in the wrong position because he didn't take the information in so I had to scream at him but Paddy's got a great side foot and it was a great finish by Steven."

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