Belfast Telegraph

Home Sport Football

O'Neill happy to be back at work

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill is delighted to be getting back to work with his side so soon after the morale-boosting win over Russia.

O'Neill recorded a long overdue first victory in charge of the national team with a 1-0 home win over Fabio Capello's men on August 14 and has an early chance to build on that next month.

A World Cup qualifying double header, involving a home clash with Portugal on September 6 and an away date in Luxembourg four days later, is looming and O'Neill is hungry to use the Russia game as a springboard.

He has named a 22-man squad for the matches, though left-back Daniel Lafferty is only available for the second having picked up his second yellow card of the campaign.

As well as those who delivered the first three points of Northern Ireland's World Cup campaign, O'Neill has been able to add midfielder Chris Brunt, who is back from a one-game suspension, and striker Kyle Lafferty, fit again following Achilles trouble.

Manchester United defender Jonny Evans, who was a matchday withdrawal for the Russia game due to sickness, is once again included.

"The main benefit for me is getting the lads together again so soon after the last game," O'Neill told Press Association Sport.

"We can approach this game in as good a place as we could hope to be as a squad.

"We have to prove we are capable of doing it all again, showing the same intensity, the same discipline, the same intelligence against Portugal that we did against Russia.

"To get the players so soon again after we had them for Russia means the preparation for these games is slightly more straight forward, given the proximity between the sessions.

"There's a settled look to the squad and now the belief and confidence of playing at this level is growing."

The return of senior men like Brunt and Kyle Lafferty is a cause of great cheer for O'Neill, but neither can consider themselves a guaranteed selection when game time arrives.

That represents somewhat of a sea change, but with the likes of Oliver Norwood, Martin Paterson and Jamie Ward turning in fine performances in their absence last time out, the competition for starting spots is growing - even for the established players.

"Brunty is back after missing the last game with suspension and Kyle is available after injury," said O'Neill.

"There's competition for places and that's what you want. I felt the front four were superb in the Russia game, in terms of how they stopped the Russians playing.

"They were all very disciplined when we didn't have the ball - Jamie Ward knew what we were after, Niall McGinn and Shane Ferguson did well and Martin Paterson gives everything he has got.

"There are no secrets with what Martin gives, it's always a fully committed performance and I was delighted he got the goal."

One man who remains out of contention is Chris Baird, who was released by Fulham in the summer and has yet to finalise a new club despite training with QPR.

"It's a miss when Chris is not here," admitted O'Neill. "It's not a question of him not getting a club, it's more about ensuring he gets the right club. It's his livelihood.

"I would like it resolved sooner rather than later because he is a very important player for us, gives us lots of options and has been a big player for Northern Ireland for the best part of 10 years."

Northern Ireland squad: Carroll (Olympiacos), McGovern (Falkirk); Hughes (Fulham), McGivern (Hibernian), Cathcart (Blackpool), McAuley (West Brom), J Evans (Manchester United), Bruce (Hull), Hodson (MK Dons), D Lafferty (Burnley); Davis (Southampton), Norwood (Huddersfield), McGinn (Aberdeen), Ferguson (Birmingham), C Evans (Blackburn), Brunt (West Brom), O'Connor (Rotherham); K Lafferty (Palermo), Grigg (Brentford), McKay (Inverness), Paterson (Huddersfield), Ward (Derby).

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph