Belfast Telegraph

O'Neill's success as Northern Ireland boss gives hope for more to come

By Rory Dollard

Michael O'Neill rates Northern Ireland's victory in Hungary as his best result as international boss – even better than beating World Cup-bound Russia at Windsor Park last year.

O'Neill has warned that the 2-1 win in Budapest will only matter if they follow up by beating the Faroe Islands next month.

He also oversaw a 1-1 draw with Portugal in Porto but the success in Hungary overtook both that and the win against Russia as his favourite result since taking over from Nigel Worthington.

That is down to timing more than anything, with close-range finishes from Niall McGinn and Kyle Lafferty giving Northern Ireland the best possible start to their Euro 2016 qualifying campaign.

Despite the good feeling created by a first away in over four years, O'Neill is already looking to the next test – a visit from Group F's minnows.

"This result feels bigger than Russia or Portugal because it means we've started the campaign on the front foot with three points away from home," he said.

"I felt we missed the opportunity to get some momentum going early in the last campaign, but we haven't missed it this time and that means we need to push on from here.

"The truth is these three points are only as valuable as what we make of them.

"We have a home game against the Faroes now which sets us up to be in a good position after a couple of games, but we have to make sure we do that."

Lafferty, who did more than anyone to drag his side over the line, echoed those sentiments.

The 26-year-old Norwich striker made the run and cross that set up McGinn for the equaliser 10 minutes from time, and then showed admirable endeavour to hook the winner over the line in a scramble, but looking ahead to the next test, he said: "When we dig deep, we'll pick up points and we've done that this time.

"These are the kind of games, when we're underdogs, that we go out and pick up points, but it's the next game against the Faroe Islands – when we should beat them – those are the games where we've struggled."

Northern Ireland captain Steven Davis was also celebrating, having led his side to the first away victory of his tenure.

He has long been a shining light in otherwise unimpressive performances, but this time the 29-year-old was able to reflect on a positive display.

"I think we deserved the win," he said.

"Everybody gave their all and that's what it's going to take if we're going to get anything out of this group."

He added: "Of course we know we're not going to come away from home and dominate possession against quality sides, but we're going to try and build on this and get a bit of consistency.

"Hungary are a good side and are ranked above us, but I thought we were really disciplined in our play and had to be patient at times.

"We also had that kind of ruthlessness in the final third which you need in games like this."

Belfast Telegraph


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