Northern Ireland manager demands overdue victory in Malta

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill pictured during Tuesdays press conference in St Julian's, Malta
Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill pictured during Tuesdays press conference in St Julian's, Malta

Michael O’Neill is hoping Malta can provide another personal milestone as Northern Ireland prepare to take on the Mediterranean side in Wednesday evening’s friendly at Ta’qali National Stadium.

O’Neill is looking for his first win as manager at the eighth attempt, and the side as a whole are overdue a victory having not won a game since a 4-0 victory over the Faroe Islands in August 2011.

Malta has been a good venue for Northern Ireland, who have managed five wins and a draw from their six previous visits, and in 1989 it provided a notable first for O’Neill as he netted his maiden international goal.

Goalkeeping coach Tommy Wright made his international debut in the same game and kept a clean sheet while assistant boss Billy McKinlay scored his first goal for Scotland against Malta.

O’Neill has come away with draws from four of his seven games, including in Portugal, and anything other than a first win tomorrow would be a disappointment.

He said of the winless run: “It doesn’t keep me awake at night, but the players want that as well. The players know we have to get back to winning games.

“They’re disappointed and, while we’ve been happy with a lot of the performances we’ve had in the qualifying games, we’ve been dis-appointed with the results.

“This will not be an easy game, if you look at their results you can see that.

“They’re a very well organised team, they’ve got an Italian coach so they’ll be very well drilled I’d imagine.

“It’s a good test for us. For the younger ones I think it’s quite a nice environment to come in and play.

“If you haven’t played that much international football, this is quite a good place to come in and dip your toe in the water.”

Malta have not managed to win a point in their World Cup qualifying group yet but have had reasonably close games with the Czech Republic and Italy while they beat Liechtenstein in their most recent match.

Northern Ireland have picked up three points in Group F from draws with Portugal, Luxembourg and Azerbaijan, with the latter two probably ending their hopes of appearing at the 2014 finals in Brazil.

As well as looking for a first win under O’Neill, tomorrow’s match will also provide a much-needed opportunity to try out options for next month’s qualifier against Russia.

Striker Kyle Lafferty and defender Chris Baird are both suspended for that match and were not included in the squad for this game.

The travelling party has a youthful look to it and a number of players could make their debuts, with Inverness’ Billy McKay probably the most likely.