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No goals, no points, no answers: O'Neill mystified as Northern Ireland misfire again in Bosnia

 

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Whyte off target: Gavin Whyte (left) goes close as skipper Corry Evans despairs in Sarajevo last night

Whyte off target: Gavin Whyte (left) goes close as skipper Corry Evans despairs in Sarajevo last night

Whyte off target: Gavin Whyte (left) goes close as skipper Corry Evans despairs in Sarajevo last night

Mystified boss Michael O'Neill was left scratching his head as Northern Ireland were condemned to their third straight defeat in the Nations League last night in Sarajevo.

Roma's former Manchester City striker Edin Dzeko struck twice to give Bosnia a 2-0 win and keep them on top of GroupB3 with nine points while Northern Ireland are rooted to the bottom of the table without a point.

After Friday's 1-0 defeat by Austria in Vienna, it was another frustrating night in front of goal for O'Neill's men wh struck the woodwork three times with George Saville and substitute Gavin Whyte missing glorious chances while a loss of footing from Jamal Lewis at a crucial time resulted in Dzeko slotting home to give Bosnia the lead.

"You're left scratching your head after the result because of the chances we had," sighed O'Neill, whose side have now gone six competitive away games without finding the net.

O’Neill added: “Bosnia had chances too, but we could have been 1-0 or even 2-0 up with the two chances George Saville had in the first half.

“He had a really good chance which he screwed wide and then he hit the post. Then a young player makes the wrong decision in the wrong area of the pitch and Dzeko punishes you.

“We then had another great chance with Gavin Whyte when he hit the post and then Dzeko punished us again.

“We then hit the post for a third time when may have given us something to go for but there are positives.

“The reality of the situation is we have no points in this competition to date but we are creating chances and you do scratch your head at times but we just have to persevere.”

It was Oxford United’s attacking midfielder Whyte who hit the post twice, once when he had the goal gaping and then a second time in the dying minutes after his shot had deflected off a defender. Whyte had scored on his international debut last month with his first touch of the ball, but was left baffled as to why he hadn’t at least doubled his international goal tally last night.

O’Neill says it’s all part of the learning process for the 22 year-old, who only made the move to full time professional football from Crusaders in the summer.

“It would have been a fantastic start for him again, the chance he has I’m sure he’ll think how he missed it. He took his first chance in the Israel game so well,” O’Neill said.

“But you’re looking at a player who at this minute in time is not ready to start games.

“When the game opens up as it did he’s more suited to it, and he showed that. Again it’s a massive step up. You’re looking at a boy who has been a full-time professional for two or three months, and he’s coming in against a lot of players with a lot of international experience.

“I thought he did very well when he came on. He’ll be disappointed he didn’t score and he hit the post again later.

“You look at those two opportunities and think how he didn’t get a finish off the rebound.

“But Gavin is one for the future and we’ll continue to build up his minutes at international level.

“We finished with three under-21 payers on the pitch and they are players who will be vitally important to us going forward.”

Former Manchester City favourite Dzeko showed his true class by taking his opportunities when they arose and he possibly could have had a third as he had a goal ruled out for offside following a Miralem Pjanic free-kick, even though replays showed that he was probably being played on by Jamal Lewis.

O’Neill conceded having a superstar player in Dzeko made the difference and how Northern Ireland would love to have a player of his calibre.

He added: “I think if you look at ourselves, the Republic of Ireland and Scotland, we’re all in search of that player who can unlock the game for you and with experience at international level.

‘We’re looking at a player who has scored over 50 international goals in just under 100 appearances. That tells you everything you need to know.

“We don’t have a player who plays at that level of the game. We can’t buy one. He has to come from Northern Ireland or have a blood line to Northern Ireland so we have to persevere.”

Bosnia coach Robert Prosinecki was once again relieved to come away with the win and actually described Northern Ireland as “a brilliant team” who can compete with the best teams in Europe.

The former Real Madrid star said: “We expected a very hard match, we were facing Northern Ireland who are a brilliant team and they have shown their quality. They can play with anyone at any level. They had a lot of opportunities and we have seen the post being hit several times”

Belfast Telegraph