The Futures Bright for Michael O’Neill’s squad

Northern Ireland made it two from two in their Group C Euro 2020 qualifiers home leg after beating Estonia 2-0 on Thursday and Belarus 2-1 last night.

The last couple of years, Northern Ireland have lacked the ability to convert chances and make the most of periods of matches when they dominated possession. The worst example of this was the inaugural Nations League Cup last year where they failed to score any goals at all.
Northern Ireland went into last night’s game knowing they must get another win to have any chance to progress in this group which includes World Cup winners Germany and the Netherlands.

They attacked Belarus from the outset and saw chances from with McNair and Kyle Lafferty both forcing good saves from Belarusian keeper Andrei Kilmovich in the first thirty minutes. Jonny Evans broke the deadlock on thirty minutes from clever and well-executed short corner which he managed to head in but the hosts lead was shortlived.
The visitors equalized when Igor Stasevich hit a diagonal shot from the corner of the box which deflected off Stuart Dallas and even though Peacock Farrell got a hand on the ball, he couldn’t stop it. Northern Ireland continued to create chances but failed to convert any so O’Neill changed strategy in the second half to a 4-4-2 formation which saw Josh Magennis came off the bench for McGinn and Paddy McNair moving to right back with Dallas moving forward.
Rangers striker, Kyle Lafferty missed a few chances for the hosts, his last in the 77th minute when he failed to attack a ball that Lewis crossed to him. O’Neill replaced him with Boyce immediately after. Northern Ireland had the intent but lacked the finish so with just five minutes to go, Ferguson replaced X and the host continued to surge forward. Their efforts were rewarded just three minutes from time with the best display of football in the game.

Magennis started the play by bringing down a long ball and spreading it wide for Dallas, who in turn fed McNair. His low cross was perfectly placed for Magennis to turn it home with a simple finish.
Belarus responded with a late flurry of pressure, requiring Peacock-Farrell to make a close-range save from Pavel Nekhaychik, but Northern Ireland hung on for victory much to the delight of the fans at Windsor Park.
Michael O’Neill spoke to Sky Sports after the match saying “”Delighted obviously with the win and I thought we played very well again. I was disappointed with the way we conceded the goal but we were in control of the game until the opening goal.
“It is hard to create some times, we put good balls into the box, but the set-piece worked well for the opener.
“We learned good lessons on concentration as well, it is big for some of the players coming in and there were big performances all over the pitch.”

Next up for Northern Ireland is an away double-header against Estonia on the 8th of June and Belarus on the 11th of June. Two more wins and the GAWA will be daring to dream all over again!

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