Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland must bury Estonia and avoid repeat of old mistakes: Feeney

 

Warren Feeney
Warren Feeney

By Steven Beacom

Michael O'Neill's players can't afford to repeat the mistakes made by the last Northern Ireland side to visit Estonia, according to former international Warren Feeney.

Northern Ireland are back in Tallin on Saturday for a vital Euro 2020 qualifier, eight years on from an embarrassing 4-1 defeat which saw the Green and White Army of fans turn on then manager Nigel Worthington and his side.

The ugly atmosphere, during and after the Euro 2012 qualifying fixture, was the beginning of the end for Worthington who, by the end of the year, had been replaced by O'Neill.

Ards manager Feeney came on as a substitute in the heavy loss and says O'Neill's class of 2019 must produce the energy and quality missing last time in Estonia.

Northern Ireland enter Saturday's clash with six points out of six in Group C having beaten Estonia and Belarus at Windsor Park in March.

They need to overcome the same opposition away from home over the next week to maintain a chance of a top two finish and qualification, given games with Holland and Germany are on the way later this year.

"That 4-1 defeat was awful. There was no energy about us and it was a poor performance," recalled ex-Northern Ireland favourite Feeney.

"It was a game we needed to win to keep our qualification hopes alive and it went the total opposite of the way we had been hoping.

"This time around the boys need to find the energy in their bodies and their minds that we didn't have. Having the right mindset will be so important out there.

"We need to start well, be faster to the ball and take chances when they come. It's crucial we have to find our rhythm as quickly as possible."

As the Champions League final won by Liverpool against Tottenham showed, that can be tricky when players haven't been involved in competitive action for some time.

Most of O'Neill's team won't have played for a month by the time kick-off takes place, while the Estonian season is in full swing right now.

"It is difficult with most of the boys having not played for quite a long time. Michael has had training camps ahead of the game but that isn't the same as playing in a competitive match," admitted Feeney, who won 46 caps.

"It will be a tough game for Northern Ireland. When we played them and Belarus at home in March, I thought Estonia were the better of the two.

"Also, they know what we are all about now and they know they have to win so it's not an easy match for us.

"Our players have to get it into their heads that we can bury Estonia in terms of the group. If we win, that's six points we'll have taken from them, and will mean there's no way they'll get close to us."

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