Northern Ireland boss Michael O’Neill looking to end away day blues

Northern Ireland players during Friday nights training session at the A Le Coq Arena ahead of Saturday nights UEFA EURO 2020 Qualifier in Estonia.
Northern Ireland players during Friday nights training session at the A Le Coq Arena ahead of Saturday nights UEFA EURO 2020 Qualifier in Estonia.
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Michael O’Neill is confident Northern Ireland can end their away day blues as they continue their push to qualify for Euro 2020.

O’Neill’s men face Estonia on Saturday in Tallinn and Belarus in Borisov on Monday in two games which are virtually must-win before they take on Holland and Germany in Group C later in the year.

O’Neill’s side are without a win on the road since beating San Marino in September 2017, a run of seven games.

But O’Neill has previously played down the importance of recent away defeats in friendlies and the Nations League, and pointed instead to better results across both the run to the Euro 2016 finals and the 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign.

“Like Estonia, we’re a small nation and we often find it difficult away from home,” said O’Neill, whose side will be roared on by 1,100 travelling fans in Tallinn.

“If you look at the last two (qualifying) campaigns our away record is quite strong - we had maybe 10 points in the campaign for Euro 2016 and about seven for the World Cup, so we are much better equipped to play away from home than we have been in the past.

“I know historically our away record is something different but this is a different group of players and Steven (Davis) would verify that there is a confidence when we go away from home now that we are capable of getting a result.”

Delivering on that potential looks like a minimum requirement for Northern Ireland as they look to force their way into the top two in the group come November.

Victories over Estonia and Belarus in March give them a chance of going into their games against Holland and Germany with 12 points in the bank if they can repeat the trick this weekend, making qualification a much more realistic prospect.

“We believe if we can get similar results as we had in the first round of fixtures, we essentially go into a group of three and it’s almost like a knockout scenario in the sense of a two-legged affair with the Netherlands and Germany,” O’Neill said.

“That in itself is a huge task, but it’s a task we would like to meet head on.”

And Josh Magennis admits he’ll be “heartbroken” when O’Neill eventually leaves his post.

“I would be absolutely gutted if Michael left because he has worked wonders for me.

“But you’ve got to respect people if they feel they want to try something new, especially if there’s a deal on the table that can’t be turned down.

“He’s well within his rights to make that decision if it comes because he’s been amazing – not just for me, but players like me and more importantly the country. But the important thing is winning these games.”