‘Keep calm and carry on’ urges Ward

Northern Ireland's Jamie Ward celebrates after scoring to make it 1-0. ''Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye.com
Northern Ireland's Jamie Ward celebrates after scoring to make it 1-0. ''Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye.com

‘Never point out your mistakes until somebody else does.’

That’s a piece of advice I was given as a young journalist - and one Northern Ireland’s first goal-scorer Jamie Ward didn’t adhere to.

To the average observer, his second minute strike was a superbly caressed finish into the bottom corner to send Northern Ireland on their way to another priceless three point haul.

But after the game, he doused any romanticism over his early nerve-settler.

He said: “I just got in a nice position. I think it was a bad cross in all honesty. I tried to take it with the outside of my foot and I completely miskicked it and then the gap opened up nicely for me to find the far corner. It went it and got us off to a great start.

“It probably helped us to relax into the game. We got the ball down and started moving it. Then we scored another good goal thanks to a great ball by Davo (Steve Davis) and Conor (Washington) slotted it away.”

The win keeps Northern Ireland safely in second position in Group C with three wins, one draw and just one defeat from the first half of the campaign.

Importantly, Michael O’Neill’s men are two clear of the Czech Republic and three ahead of Azerbaijan in the race for a play-off spot that will be awarded to all but one of the runners-up.

“We’re not getting carried away,” said Ward. “We were in this position with the Euros. We’ve just got to be confident and continue what we’re doing. We can only control what we can control.

“I don’t think we can worry about other teams. We’ve just to be concerned with what we can do. The most important thing is to make sure we’re feeling good in the summer when it comes to Azerbaijan.”

That’s Northern ireland’s next qualifier, in a no-doubt hot Baku on June 10 - a month after the potential end of some players’ club seasons.

“We’ve got a training camp so we’re not going to be out of football for too long,” said Ward. “I’d like to think all of us will be working hard anyhow because we know we’ve got the games. It’s always hard to replicate match practice but we’ll do our best. The weather’s going to be tough to handle but we’ll get past that.”

If Northern Ireland’s stout defence that has kept four clean sheets in five qualifying matches is anything as good as it was last night, O’Neill’s men will be tough to beat.

“When you look at our back three, Jonny Evans, Gareth McAuley and Craig Cathcart, we’ve been able to soak (pressure) up,” said Ward. “They play at the top level in England so they have a lot of experience. That’s what helps us - we know we’re going to be solid at the back. We just have to do the job at the other end.”

Ward held over a word for the skipper, the puller of the strings, Steve Davis.

“Davo’s brilliant,” he beamed. “I had the pleasure of growing up with him at Villa so it’s always nice to come here and link up with him. He’s got a lot of ability but you can’t take it away from Chris Brunt, Jonny Evans or Big G (Gareth McAuley) - there’s a lot of talent in the team.”