Thanks to fans by Michael O’Neill despite sense of anti-climax

Michael O’Neill admitted to a sense of anti-climax as Northern Ireland’s faint hopes of automatic qualification for Euro 2020 ended in what stands to be his final home game in charge.

Sunday, 17th November 2019, 4:27 pm
Michael O'Neill offers his thanks to the Northern Ireland fans following the final whistle at the National Stadium on Saturday. Pic by PressEye Ltd.

The Windsor Park faithful belted out the name of their departing manager in the final few minutes but the man himself struggled to enjoy the moment.

“I was thinking, ‘Could we get up the pitch and press’,” said O’Neill, named Stoke boss just over a week ago. “It was more important to me. It was lovely that they did that, and I totally appreciate the gesture.

“But it wasn’t a night for salutes during the game, it was a night for trying to drive the team forward and get some reaction from the players in the last few minutes.

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“It was missed opportunity, there’s no doubt about that. It was a missed opportunity to go ahead in the first half. I thought again we started the game with great purpose, had chances but again we need that little bit of good fortune.”

O’Neill went on to the pitch after the final whistle to thank the fans.

The penalty proved a turning point. The Dutch players did all they could to distract Davis, arguing at length with referee Szymon Marciniak, before Jasper Cillessen came off his line to talk to the Rangers midfielder.

“The circumstances around the penalty were poor,” O’Neill said. “I thought it could have been handled better by the referee. The goalkeeper has no need to walk off the line. I don’t know why he allowed him to do that.”

The draw leaves Northern Ireland facing a potentially tricky away trip next year while Holland advance to Euro 2020, their first major tournament since the 2014 World Cup.

“It means a lot,” said manager Ronald Koeman. “That was the goal we talked about when we started.”