Belfast Telegraph

O'Neill determined to end year-long goalless away drought as Northern Ireland without Will Grigg

 

By Paul Ferguson

Michael O'Neill admits he doesn't have a "magic formula" to solve Northern Ireland's goalscoring drought away from home and insists all his players simply have to rise to the occasion starting tonight in Sarajevo.

Northern Ireland have been consistent scorers at home but away from Windsor Park they haven't found the net in their last five internationals - athough two of those games were on the Central American tour against Panama and Costa Rica with a weakened squad. The goal drought goes back to when Steven Davis scored the penalty which capped a 3-0 win over San Marino 13-months ago.

O'Neill's men are heading into this evening's match against Bosnia and Herzegovina disappointed they failed to be clinical in attack during their defeat to Austria last Friday night in Vienna, when they had four decent opportunities to score.

But they will take confidence from the fact in recent years they have scored against, and beaten, Hungary, Greece and Azerbaijan in competitive matches away from home, while in France at the Euro 2016 finals, a goal from Gareth McAuley and a second from Niall McGinn secured an amazing victory over Ukraine in Lyon.

O'Neill, having presided over training sessions yesterday morning and evening in Sarajevo following the team's flight into the Bosnian capital from Vienna on Saturday night, believes Northern Ireland must take collective responsibility for scoring goals and not just rely on the attackers. He wants his side to have a greater threat from set pieces at the Stadion Grbavica, an aspect of their game which is usually a major strength, especially when you have the delivery skills of both Ollie Norwood and Paddy McNair.

Burton forward Liam Boyce is back in contention after missing the Austria game, which is a relief for O'Neill as he is already without Conor Washington, Kyle Lafferty and now Will Grigg, who pulled his hamstring on Friday night and has returned to his club.

O'Neill is still likely to start with Bolton's Josh Magennis up front with Boyce and Kyle Vassell alternatives on the bench while Jordan Jones may come in for Shane Ferguson on the left flank.

"For us to go to Austria and create the chances we had and not take them, there's no magic formula, we need someone to stick the ball in the net, it's as simple as that," conceded O'Neill.

"We're challenged a little bit at the moment with the striker situation. For a lot of our strikers, this is a step up, they're still getting used to international football. They're stepping up from League One and Championship football.

"There's not a great track record there in terms of scoring international goals and I don't think there's any real way that we address it. The system of play is consistent with what we've done, and that will continue to be so.

"We need goals from other areas of the pitch and we need to be a little bit more decisive and clinical in terms of set-pieces away from home. Obviously, we're very strong in that area at home."

Northern Ireland were the dominant force against Bosnia in the first clash at Windsor Park last month with over 70% of the play and around 25 shots on goal. Bosnia were on the back foot for most of the match. But two defensive errors cost Northern Ireland dear and and even Bosnia coach Robert Prosenecki admitted his side were fortunate to leave Belfast with all three points.

O'Neill is expecting a completely different match this evening with Bosnia as they have only lost once in their last 11 competitive matches at home, while they will be supported by a passionate home crowd inside the tight and compact ground which only has a capacity of 13,000.

Bosnia are full of confidence as they top Group B3 on six points after winning their two Nations League games so far. Their Serie A star players Edin Dzeko (Roma) and Miralem Pjanic (Juventus)were kept largely quiet in Belfast, however, they both have the ability to control the game and are a major concern to Northern Ireland.

"I don't expect the game to be similar to what we had in Belfast," stated O'Neill.

"Bosnia have some excellent players, arguably world class players in Dzeko and Pjanic, and very good players on the sides.

"They've got momentum which is very important with the opening two wins. We will have to be at our very best to take something from this game.

"I expect an open game. The pitch is fabulous, there will be a good atmosphere in the ground and the Bosnian team play with great pride. We witnessed that in the analysis we've done on the team.

"We would like to have the level of possession we had in Belfast but we don't think we'll have that.

I think we'll have to be very strong defensively and the opportunities we get on the counter attack or through our own possession, we have to make sure we do better than we have done in the games so far in terms of turning that dominance into goals."

Victory or even a point this evening will give Northern Ireland a chance of beating the drop to the third tier of the Nations League, while defeat will almost confirm it.

Bosnia-Herz vs N Ireland

Nations League

Stadion Grbavica, Tonight, 7.45pm

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