Belfast Telegraph

New-look high-intensity Northern Ireland displays are here to stay, says boss

By Steven Beacom

Regrets? Michael O'Neill and his Northern Ireland players have a few. And they are the reason why the Green and White Army are going to get used to seeing their heroes play the high intensity, high energy and high pressing game on display against Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The blistering start by O'Neill's men took the breath away. They should have had a penalty just 34 seconds in and could have been a couple of goals to the good in the opening quarter with better finishing or a more accurate final ball.

They paid for that later when defensive errors allowed the visitors to score twice before substitute Will Grigg netted in stoppage time in a rousing finish, with the mood in the crowd at the end one of astonishment that Northern Ireland had been defeated 2-1.

The last time Northern Ireland played a competitive fixture in Belfast they also lost - to Switzerland in the first leg of the World Cup play-off - though, unlike then, Saturday's stirring effort brought positivity rather than a dismayed feeling of what might have been when O'Neill's side did not do themselves justice.

Leading 1-0 from Windsor, the Swiss made it to Russia courtesy of a scoreless draw on their own patch in the return.

It's a memory that still hurts O'Neill and his team but they are determined not to make the same mistakes again.

"We didn't envisage possibly having that level of control and dominance in the game against Bosnia," said Northern Ireland boss O'Neill ahead of tonight's home friendly with Israel.

"We did set ourselves out to go and press the opposition high. The players felt it themselves, when we look back at the Swiss game at home, that would be one of our regrets - that we possibly stood off the game a little bit.

"I think there were reasons for that: the magnitude of the game and also, I think, that we had eight players on yellow cards, which didn't help.

"At home, going forward, against Bosnia are the type of performances we would like to see, certainly against teams we would regard as being on the same level of European football as we are.

"It's depends on the opposition obviously as well - if we're playing Germany or Spain here it's going to be more difficult to do that.

"But it was very pleasing against a team of Bosnia's standard to play as well as we did, go out and have that level of control.

"Equally, the next phase is turning dominance into goals and, obviously, results."

Israel tonight offers up the opportunity to do just that.

"We'd like to see the same level of performance, the same intensity and same running power within the team, and also a victory," said O'Neill.

"We need to get back into that mindset. I look at this team really from South Korea onwards. We came to the end of the World Cup qualification process and had that three or four months, and the South Korea game in March was the start of it with some new players available to us.

"There are still a lot of players here from the previous campaign, and possibly players who have been on the fringe of things will get their opportunity.

"It is time for us to get back to that habit of winning games, which is a good habit. We have two very difficult games in October (away to Austria and Bosnia in the Nations League) and it will be difficult to win those games, so it is important we do everything possible to try and beat Israel."

On tonight's opponents, managed by Andi Herzog, who lost their first Nations League match 1-0 to Albania on Friday, O'Neill said: "They are at the start of something as well. They have had disappointing qualifying campaigns recently and look at smaller nations like us and think they qualify (for major tournaments) and probably feel it is well within their capability to qualify as well.

"We expect an open game. Whether they play as they did against Albania or whether they change the shape it is quite difficult to read it, so we'll focus more on us and think about what we can bring to the game."

Captain Steven Davis will be seeking a clinical edge to Northern Ireland's play.

"Against Bosnia I thought we set the tone really well, pressed high from early on and forced them into areas, and that gave us the incentive to keep doing that," said the Southampton midfielder. "I thought there was a really good energy and felt we used the ball well. For all the possession we had we did well to put it into the right areas, but you have to be clinical as well as creative.

"They were very clinical with the chances that they had and that makes the difference in games at this level. They're small margins.

"We came away scratching our heads wondering how we didn't win, never mind not take anything from it.

"For the Israel game I think it's an opportunity to give the players more experience, Michael may try a few different things and hopefully we'll get a win."

Belfast Telegraph

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