Belfast Telegraph

Stuart Dallas and Paddy McNair knocking on the door to start against Romania

By Julian Taylor

Michael O'Neill believes Stuart Dallas and Paddy McNair are now offering competition for starting places ahead of Northern Ireland's crunch Euro 2016 qualifier against Romania - despite a disappointing 1-1 draw in a friendly against Qatar last night.

The manager saw his experimental line-up held by the mysterious visitors, who made their first visit to the UK for international action at Gresty Road, home of Crewe Alexandra.

It was a clear source of frustration to see Dallas' 46th-minute opener cancelled out by a superb strike by Qatar substitute Karim Boudiaf. Yet O'Neill feels both Brentford forward Dallas and Manchester United man McNair - playing in a new midfield anchor role in his nascent international career - can muscle into the line-up against the Romanians.

"I'm delighted with Dallas," said O'Neill. "He's been unfortunate with injuries that have stopped him coming into the squad.

"He's had to withdraw from four or five squads but since he's come in he's been excellent.

"We were really pleased with how he played in Scotland, he got 20, 25 minutes versus Finland and he's added to that again here.

"Every time he gets on the pitch he's not doing himself any harm at all.

"I'm delighted because sometimes it takes players a little bit longer to settle when they come into the squad and start to impact on my thoughts in terms of being a starting player.

"Stuart has been able to do that straight away. McNair has done the same, those two performances were excellent.

"You pick a 23-man squad but you want pressure for starting places and those two lads have done that with their performances today.

"We're not blessed with riches resource-wise. Sometimes they come from League One level.

"This time last year, we called Conor McLaughlin in for the tour of South America and he's never been out of the side since. That's an example of a player adapting very quickly to international football. He was very prominent again and now Stuart has done the same, along with Paddy."

Though the game itself was by no means a classic, O'Neill is satisfied his squad are gearing up well for that forthcoming battle with Romania on June 13.

"We got a lot out of it after four days working with the players," he added.

"The team we picked was young and relatively inexperienced.

"We're asking some of these lads to step up at international level and they're still at the infancy of their club careers.

"I was delighted with a lot of aspects.

"For 60-65 minutes we played really well, it was a difficult pitch but we tried to play football.

"We could have taken a little bit more care over the final ball, we didn't turn the possession we had into enough opportunities.

"Given where we are, with some of our lads not having played a game for the best part of a month, some didn't finish in the starting XI for their clubs. We have the players for eight days then back in for the Romania game.

"They've had a responsibility to maintain their fitness.

"It's very important because the team that will start against Romania is the team that is most game ready - fitness levels, intensity of training, what they show us on the pitch.

"It's not just a case of picking the team based on the lines of who faced Finland. It will be based on who is ready to play given the nature of the fixture."

Belfast Telegraph


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