INTERNATIONAL: O’Neill’s sixth sense suggests NI stars are set to shine

Michael O'Neill is picking up positive signs from his players on the training pitch. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Michael O'Neill is picking up positive signs from his players on the training pitch. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker

Michael O’Neill is hoping his sixth sense won’t let him down this evening.

Using his intuition, O’Neill has a hunch that his players are on tip-top form and in the right mood to beat Azerbaijan at Windsor Park this evening.

“You always know in training if the players have that edge to them. They certainly had that this morning,” O’Neill said at yesterday’s press conference at the National Stadium.

“Our aim is to put ourselves in a position of strength and three points will do that. We wouldn’t want to be six points behind Azerbaijan. We have to stop their momentum from the opening three games and it will be nice for us to be sitting second.

“The key is that we’re aware of the difficulty that Azerbaijan will set us but the players are well prepared.”

Tonight’s opponents certainly could prove a tough nut to crack. They haven’t even conceded in the qualifying campaign so far - one of only four teams in Europe that can boast that record.

“That is impressive,” conceded O’Neill. “I think their strength defensively has been as a collective, how they defend as a team. They’re well prepared, well drilled. It’s not the easiest thing to coach a team to do that. If you can do that and win games as they have done, you get belief. We have seen areas where we believe we can exploit them though.”

Azerbaijan have scored just two goals in their three games so far but O’Neill knows that only proves their strategy has worked to perfection.

He said: “It’s clear from the campaign they’ve had to begin with, they’ve played with a defensive structure. They’ve played very deep in the games we’ve watched and it’s worked for them. They’re obviously a threat on the counter-attack as well.

“They’ll come here initially to make sure they’re not beaten and to take three points by being a threat on the counter attack.”