Belfast Telegraph

We're raring to go for big revenge mission, says Paddy McNair

 

Video nasty: Paddy McNair believes Northern Ireland have learned from their mistakes after re-watching their previous clash with the Dutch
Video nasty: Paddy McNair believes Northern Ireland have learned from their mistakes after re-watching their previous clash with the Dutch

By Graham Luney

Paddy McNair says Northern Ireland have learned the painful lessons from the nightmare in Rotterdam and they hope to have the last laugh against the Netherlands tomorrow night.

Three late goals gave the Dutch a flattering 3-1 win in last month's qualifier and Netherlands chief Ronald Koeman rubbed salt in the wounds by saying the visitors were "outrageous" and "terrible to watch".

But Northern Ireland boss Michael O'Neill, who watched his side shut out their dangerous rivals for 80 minutes, insisted it wasn't their job to entertain the former Everton and Southampton manager.

O'Neill's men have watched the game again and, although it has the feel of a horror movie at the end, the scoreline doesn't hide the fact it was confidence boosting performance from the underdogs.

Tomorrow's reunion is a different ball game and, after Koeman receives a cold Belfast welcome, Northern Ireland will look to strike back in style.

A play-off game in March may be the most realistic route to the Euro 2020 finals now for the men in green, but the players would like to land two memorable blows on heavyweights the Netherlands and Germany before Group C concludes.

Northern Ireland shook off the despair of the Rotterdam episode by winning a friendly in the Czech Republic 3-2 and Ballyclare man McNair was a two-goal hero in Prague.

It was a first away friendly victory in 23 games and a welcome lifting of spirits, but the big prize on offer this week is a successful revenge mission on the Dutch.

Middlesbrough man McNair accepts the late collapse in the Netherlands after Josh Magennis' opener was a harsh lesson.

"When we went ahead I thought we dropped off," he reflected.

"It's a natural thing to do when you go one up, you sort of drop, and if we were just maybe 10-15 yards up the pitch, they wouldn't have come in our half as much as they did in the last 10 to 15 minutes.

"That was evident when we watched it back, and even towards the end we didn't really keep the ball, just to take the pressure off us a bit because it was so intense the last 15 minutes of the game. If we do go ahead on Saturday, that's something we should do better.

"The game was okay to watch until the last five minutes, I was happy enough. Someone said it was like watching a horror movie because you knew what was coming. It was painful, the last 10-15 minutes weren't nice to watch but, then again, we can take a lot of confidence from it. From the Germany game at home too, we've given them a good game."

McNair, who hopes to make his 33rd Northern Ireland appearance tomorrow, was able to frustrate Barcelona ace Frenkie de Jong for much of the contest.

"He's a great player and I knew before the game I was going to have to get tight to him throughout it," he added.

"In the last 10-15 minutes, he did start to dictate play a little bit more, so that's something I'll have to look into.

"But I think that was the nature of the game as well, us dropping back and then he was dropping in between (Matthijs) de Ligt and (Virgil) van Dijk to get the ball. He's a great player and it was nice to come up against him. Hopefully I can keep him at bay again."

McNair plans to retain his goalscoring touch, an aspect of his game he was always cherished.

"I've always been an attacking midfielder," he said. "During my career I've been - I wouldn't say held back - but I just haven't really been able to give what I know I can because I've been played out of position.

"Now I'm playing that right of a three in midfield and I feel like I'm playing well. I feel like I can get goals added to my game for club and country.

"Before I moved over to England and even when I was in the academy at Man U, I did score a good amount of goals, and then at 19 I dropped back into centre-back for a year or two and I think a lot of people thought I was a centre-back.

"It was a little bit frustrating because I knew I could give so much more higher up the pitch and it's nice that I'm getting that opportunity now to show who I really am."

With O'Neill taking the Stoke City job and still committed to Northern Ireland, these are interesting times for the Green and White Army, with the players waiting to see how everything unfolds.

"I'm happy for Michael, I think he deserves it, it's a really good job," added McNair. "The Stoke owners seem to give managers time and I've no doubt Michael will go in there and change it around for them.

"It doesn't really feel too different at the minute because he's here and everything's normal. In March, if we're already qualified or in the play-offs, he's still going to be here so at the minute it just seems that everything's normal. It's business as usual.

"Ever since I've been in the squad it's been quite a successful one, and long may that continue.

"Whoever comes in, it's going to be tough succeeding Michael, but I'm not really thinking too much about it. I just want to qualify for the European Championships in the summer, and after that take whatever comes."

Northern Ireland vs Netherlands

Euro 2020 Qualifying Group C

Windsor Park, Tomorrow, 7.45pm

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