O’Neill encouraged by performance

Published: Sunday 12th October 2014 by The News Editor

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Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill was buoyant after his side maintained their perfect start to Euro 2016 qualifying with a 2-0 win over the Faroe Islands.

First-half strikes from Gareth McAuley and Kyle Lafferty secured the points, while Roy Carroll’s superb one-handed penalty save from Frodi Benjaminsen ensured a clean sheet.

The 10,049 fans who crammed into the two operational stands at a Windsor Park in the early stages of redevelopment might have enjoyed more goalmouth action after the interval, but after winning in Hungary last month it was all about the points for O’Neill.

His side top Group F after two games, having opened a campaign with back-to-back wins for the first time since 1968.

“The target off the back of the game in Hungary was to take three points and we did that with a really strong performance,” he said.

“We’re delighted with the performance and the three points. We have six points from two games but it’s a little bit early to be looking at the group, that’s for the supporters to enjoy.

“For us, the campaign is about momentum and getting that as early as possible.

“Had we not taken three points here it would have diminished the significance of Budapest and we haven’t allowed that to happen.”

O’Neill had tasted only one victory in two and a half years prior to this campaign and cut a relieved figure after seeing off a so-called minnow for the first time.

Previous attempts against Luxembourg and Azerbaijan had ended in embarrassment, with two points from a possible 12 against the pair.

And although there was no shortage of local star power on hand in Belfast this week, with world champion boxer Carl Frampton paraded before kick-off at Windsor Park and a certain Ryder Cup star sharing the side’s digs, O’Neill kept the motivational duties in house.

“I didn’t ask Carl in to speak to the lads,” he said.

“We’ve had Rory McIlroy in the hotel with us this week as well but the players had to make do with my words of wisdom instead.

“It’s great when you see people like that around – and we had (record goalscorer) David Healy at the hotel last night too.

“The lads are always glad to see him. There’s a really good atmosphere around at the minute and it’s one that we need to keep going.”

O’Neill eased concerns over McAuley, who was substituted early in the second half in mild discomfort, but confirmed his West Brom team-mate Chris Brunt would not be travelling to Greece with the squad on Sunday.

“On another night we might have kept Gareth on but we had to look to Greece. He was hobbling a bit, he collided with the post, but we got a great performance out of Gareth again,” said the manager.

“I emphasised in the last campaign that he was probably our best performer and he showed again how vital he is to us tonight.

“He’ll be vital again in Greece, so we’ll wrap him in cotton wool and make sure he’s ready to play on Tuesday.

“Brunty would have played but unfortunately he nicked his groin on Thursday morning and has returned to his club.”

Published: Sunday 12th October 2014 by The News Editor

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