Last night, Michael O’Neill’s international squad secured their first win since they beat the Czech Republic in September 2017.
Northern Ireland played host to Estonia in their first Group C game of the Euro 2020 qualifiers. They dominated the first half but Paddy McNair and Craig Cathcart failed to make their two best chances count. It took until the 56th minute for Northern Ireland to finally break the deadlock and to settle their nerves.
Niall McGinn scored with a powerful strike from Kyle Lafferty’s lay-off in the 56th minute, his first since scoring against Ukraine in the Euro 2016 Finals.McGinn dedicated his goal to the young victims of the Cookstown tragegy. “It was an important goal for Northern Ireland but it was for my local community as well,” he stated. “I was devastated, it was in the back of my mind to do well in the game and score a goal.
O Neill said of McGinn post match “He’s in a good little vein of form. He scored on his last two games for Aberdeen and that was in my mind when I decided to start him.
“He is one of those players who when he’s in that confident vein of form it’s the right time to use him.
“It was a big goal for him. When you look at Niall’s goals at international level they’ve all been important goals, tonight was another one of those.”
Estonia’s best opportunity came with the score at 1-0 when Henri Anier raced through on goal only to be denied by young goalkeeper Bailey Peacock-Farrell. Davis doubled Northern Ireland’s lead from a penalty spot after a high tackle on George Saville by Estonian Karol Mets just fifteen minutes from time. O’Neill although satisfied with the result last night admits there is a lot of room for improvement.
“It was a good win for us,” he said of the win over Estonia. “We know the significance of getting off to a good start. It gives us everything going into the second game. Belarus is a game we look forward to off the back of a good three points.
“We set ourselves a target of six points from the first two games and we’ve given ourselves the opportunity to do that.”
“Our final ball at times needs to be improved and we didn’t get enough contact on the ball in the box,” said O’Neill, whose side’s attacking play improved greatly in the second half.
“A lot of our play was very good but we just need to be a little bit more polished in the final third.”
Next up for Northern Ireland is Belarus this Sunday and will hope for another three points, with games against Group C favourites the Netherlands and Germany to come later this year.