Belfast Telegraph

Koeman's jibe was a form of compliment, believes McLaughlin

Confident: Conor McLaughlin knows his side rattled the Dutch
Confident: Conor McLaughlin knows his side rattled the Dutch

By Graham Luney

Northern Ireland defender Conor McLaughlin said he laughed when he heard Holland coach Ronald Koeman's dig at Michael O'Neill's men.

Koeman labelled Northern Ireland's style "outrageous" and "terrible to watch" after the Dutch staged a late comeback to triumph 3-1 in Rotterdam.

It was a shattering result for the visitors, who had taken the lead through Josh Magennis in the 76th minute, as two stoppage-time goals proved to be decisive.

O'Neill wasn't impressed by the comments, saying "We didn't go there to entertain Ronald Koeman", and McLaughlin, who was an unused substitute, felt the verbal attack underlined how well Northern Ireland performed.

"I sort of just laughed at his comment," said the Sunderland man.

"I think the fact he came out and said that is sort of a compliment to us because he frustrated them that much and he obviously wasn't happy with his own team's performance.

"If his comments deflect away from that then we rattled them at the time and we take a lot of confidence from that.

"I'm sure they won't be expecting an easy game.

"We also rattled Germany and could have been one or two up. They looked uneasy at times and I'm sure the fans will play their part, too.

"Gini Wijnaldum came out after the game and said he felt we played well and I'm sure a lot of players had respect for us already. But after that performance I'm sure they'll know it won't be an easy game."

Northern Ireland players were no doubt stung by Koeman's take on their style of play and they have an opportunity to deliver a response in Saturday's home clash with the Dutch.

With the Group C campaign concluding against Germany in Frankfurt on Tuesday, the potential Euro 2020 play-offs next March seem the most realistic route to the finals for the men in green.

It's not yet clear whether the Netherlands scrap will be O'Neill's final game in charge, following his appointment as manager of Stoke City.

O'Neill's new employers might prefer for him to cut his ties with Northern Ireland after this double header, but the players are all in agreement they want to give the 50-year-old a few more special memories.

Former Fleetwood Town and Millwall ace McLaughlin added: "Over the last eight years he's done an unbelievable job. He's helped us as players to get moves and get rewards for what we've done on the pitch, and it's only just that he gets his rewards, too.

"I am surprised he's been here so long. You see other managers from different countries get moves off the back of their records and maybe it hasn't been the right job for him to go before but he deserves this move.

"He spoke to us but the focus is just on these two games and everything as been normal in that sense.

"Over the past four or five years the only thing missing has been a big scalp. We've beaten the likes of England and Spain in the past, and as players we'd like to beat that type of big nation and it would be a great send off for him if this is his last game in charge at Windsor Park.

"That's the only thing missing from what he's achieved. Of course you'd take qualifying for major tournaments and winning the majority of games over winning one or two over big countries, but we want to have the experience of beating a big country."

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