Nations League: Northern Ireland boss Michael O’Neill defends shocking Gavin Whyte miss

Northern Ireland's Gavin Whyte spurned an excellent opportunity to equalise against Bosnia & Herzegovina.
Northern Ireland's Gavin Whyte spurned an excellent opportunity to equalise against Bosnia & Herzegovina.

Gavin Whyte may have been guilty of an incredible miss but Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill praised the impact he made in Monday’s 2-0 loss to Bosnia and Herzegovina in Sarajevo.

Whyte struck the post when faced with an almost open goal shortly after coming on as a 57th minute substitute with his side trailing 1-0.

The visitors’ night was then summed up when they were denied a consolation goal as the Oxford winger’s late cross was deflected on to the post as well.

But the 22-year-old injected energy to Northern Ireland’s play, leaving O’Neill impressed.

“I thought he did very well when he came on,” O’Neill said. “He’ll be disappointed he didn’t score, of course he will, and he hit the post again later in the game.

“You look at those two opportunities and think how he didn’t get a finish off the rebound.

“But Gavin is one for the future and we’ll continue to build up his minutes at international level.

“We finished with three under-21 players on the pitch and they are players who will be vitally important to us going forward.”

Whyte scored with his first touch in international football in last month’s friendly win over Israel, and though he could not quite make the same instant impact here, O’Neill said he is a useful weapon when the opposition begins to tire.

“It would have been a fantastic start for him again (to score), the chance he has I’m sure he’ll think how he missed it,” he said. “He took his first chance in the Israel game so well.

“You’re looking at a player who at this minute in time I don’t think Gavin is ready to start games.

“When the game opens up as it did he’s more suited to it, and he showed that. Again it’s a massive step up.

“You’re looking at a boy who has been a full-time professional for two or three months, and he’s coming in against a lot of players with a lot of international experience.”

The defeat leaves Northern Ireland as favourites to be relegated from Group B3 as they need Bosnia to beat Austria in Vienna and to then defeat the Austrians themselves in Belfast next month to be in with a chance of survival.

O’Neill sounded resigned to the idea of dropping down to League C when he said he did not expect to have anything to play for at Windsor Park on November 18, but he promised he would prepare his team to try to win the match.

“We will play a very strong team against Austria because we don’t have enough players to play a weakened team,” he said.

“The team that played tonight or something very similar will play against Austria and it’s very important that we try to win the game at home.

“We will treat the game against Austria like all the others to date, albeit we have very little to play for.”