Momentum key as Michael O’Neill and players look to break record

Northern Ireland captain Steven Davis
Northern Ireland captain Steven Davis

Northern Ireland boss Michael O’Neill hopes his players can continue building momentum on Monday night – and create a little piece of history in the process.

O’Neill will continue his preparations for this summer’s Euros with a friendly international against Slovenia at Windsor Park (7.45pm).

Northern Ireland are currently on a nine-game unbeaten run, equalling the long-standing records set in 1979-80 and 1985-86 under legendary manager Billy Bingham.

O’Neill’s squad – who last tasted defeat in March last year with a 1-0 loss against Scotland – will surpass that record with a win or draw on Monday in Belfast.

It would also help massage the feel-good factor surrounding the side ahead of this summer’s European Championship in France.

“I was speaking to some of the senior players about maybe freshening things up for Monday’s game, but they were all adamant that they wanted to play,” O’Neill said.

“The players want to extend the unbeaten record, maybe more than I do. But that is good.

“The players want to keep building the momentum, and if they continue to create milestones along the way then that is great.”

Captain Steven Davis admits Northern Ireland’s impressive run of form has boosted confidence ahead of this summer’s Euros.

“We have found a way of playing that gets us results. You can see that in our performances,” the Southampton star said.

“For so long we were so inconsistent, and you didn’t know what you were going to get from game to game.

“Now we are getting positives results, and we want to keep that going.

“It would be great to get the record.

“I think it has been a good week, first and fore most, and we want to continue that.

“Momentum is a big thing in football and you want to keep it going for as long as you can.

“This is a good opportunity to continue our development as a team, and a chance for the younger players to gain more experience and see what it is like to play at this level.

“And obviously there is a nice carrot there for us if we can get another unbeaten game under our belts.

“We have three games before the Euros, so we want to keep building momentum.”

O’Neill has to whittle his squad down to 23 for this summer’s Euros, but he is refusing to reveal any of his hand as the countdown to France continues.

The bulk of O’Neill’s squad picks itself, given the lack of options the Northern Ireland boss has had at his disposal over the qualifying campaign.

“We have 25 players here, and the idea is that all 25 have to think they have some kind of hope of being in France,” O’Neill added.

“If I said ‘I have 22 players picked already’, that wouldn’t be positive.

“The bulk of my final squad will come from those players who got us to France, there is no secret about that. There will be an opportunity for one or two on the periphery to get in the final 23. It is more likely that you will have to disappoint five or six players who would have been involved.”