Michael O’Neill wants home comfort for Northern Ireland
Michael O’Neill is hoping for some home comfort as Northern Ireland kick off their EURO 2020 qualifying campaign.
O’Neill’s men face Estonia and Belarus in a crucial home double header to kick start a group which also features Germany and the Netherlands.
And O’Neill knows it is vital to make the most of their impressive home recoord, especially after his side did not press home its advantage in several Nations League games.
“We’ve had 20 qualification games with a win percentage of 60% and only lost one home games, if you take the play-offs out,” he said.
“That was to Germany and I don’t think there’s any shame in that.
“There are areas to improve on but we’ve become a team who know how to get results.
“There’s an evolution with the young players coming in.
“I think we have more legs and running power than we’ve had.
“That allows us to play at a higher intensity and tht’s how we intend to approach the games.
“It’s all positive. We could have had a fantastic Nations League but the group wouldn’t change.
“We got game-time into players. We’re a far more possession based team than we were and that’s how we want to address the games.”
O’Neill has been forced to shuffle his pack with injuries to Gareth McAuley, Corry Evans, Will Grigg and Gavin Whyte, and with several players not playing regularly at club.
But after taking everything into consideration he says he knows his team for the opener on Thursday night, but he is not thinking about Belarus on Sunday night just yet.
“There were one or two decisions to make at the start of the week,” said O’Neill.
“You have to go into players’ history in how they have been for you at international level.
“Players can leave their club situation behind. The depth of the squad is going to be tested -we know it’s not particularly deep but it gives players opportunity - perhaps to younger players.
“The younger guys have freshened things up, so that’s good.
“There is good experience in the squad. The depth is tested in terms of the fringe players being young and inexperienced but we have a strong core of experienced players there as well.
“We’ve watched Estonia closely in the Nations League and nobody had an easy game against them.
“With regards to Sunday’s game I’ve learned over time not to plan too far ahead.
“You can plan these games since November but when the players come in, those plans can be pointless.
“The essential thing is to take care of the first game (of a double header).
“A good result keeps that buoyancy. The players don’t feel as tired if they’ve won and that’s a big thing.
“When we’ve had good results in the second game it’s come off a good performance in the first game.
“Our focus is solely on the first game and if we get the performance and result we hope for, we know that we’ll go into the game on Sunday with the same intensity.”
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