Stuart Dallas confident Northern Ireland can deal with Norway threat in World Cup qualifier
NEW-LOOK Norway may have “a point to prove” – but Northern Ireland winger Stuart Dallas isn’t expecting the visitors to take any away from Windsor Park this weekend.
The Leeds United player hasn’t suffered defeat at the Belfast venue in international games and admits that Michael O’Neill’s squad aren’t anticipating that record ending when the World Cup qualifying campaign resumes on Sunday night:
“We talk to each other saying how confident we are and that we can’t see ourselves getting beaten or putting in a bad performance. No matter who we play against, we keep going right to the death.
“We have a good group of lads who just want to win and be successful. That’s down to Michael and his backroom team and the belief they have installed in us.”
Norway have struggled so far in Group C, with only three points earned from four matches, that from a solitary home victory over minnow San Marino.
However, last month they appointed former Sweden coach Lars Lagerback, the man who helped guide Iceland to a famous victory over England at Euro 2016, so Dallas knows to be wary about the Norwegians:
“They’ve got a new manager and they have six players that played the last game not in the squad.
“They’ve got new players in that are going to have a point to prove. That will make it that bit tougher for us but we’ll prepare the way we always do and go in expecting to get the three points.
“It [Windsor Park] is not an easy place to come to. It’s a place where we’ve been strong in recent years.
“We’ve shown that we can go away to teams and pick up valuable points as well but you’ve got to win your home games.
“It’s the same no matter what level of football you’re playing at, whether it’s club football or international. You’ve got to win your home games and anything you pick up away from home is a bonus. Hopefully that keeps going.”
Northern Ireland’s fine recent home form – the friendly defeat late last year to Croatia excepted, a game that Dallas missed through injury – has included 4-0 qualifier wins over San Marino and Azerbaijan, with the latter not having conceded in their three group games before that.
The 25-year-old Dallas insists he and his colleagues are relaxed about heightened demands from their supporters, saying:
“We as players know how good we are and what we expect of ourselves. When you’re winning games and with the success we had last summer, the expectations of the fans have risen a bit but we know how good we are and we know what we want to achieve. Last year gave us that taste for it and hopefully we can go on to bigger and better things.
“It shows how far we’ve come. The players and management team have got to take a lot of credit for that. I still maintain that against any team that comes to Windsor, no matter who it is, we’ll give a good account of ourselves. We won’t just roll over.
“Our home form is crucial for us but now we’re going into the games expecting to win whereas a few years ago we were thinking we would do well to get a point. It shows how far we’ve come.”
The Cookstown man has been on quite a journey himself, from the Irish League with Crusaders to hopes of reaching the English Premiership next season with the fallen Elland Road giants.
Dallas is cautiously optimistic that the west Yorkshire club can do as Northern Ireland did last summer and reward their success-starved supporters:
“The Leeds fans have suffered for a long time now. It would be a dream come true for us all to get a club like that back to where they belong.
“It doesn’t happen overnight. It’s been a long, hard season and we’ve just got to keep working hard. The fans have backed us as they do in good times and the bad. In recent weeks, we’re getting 30,000-plus at Elland Road, which is incredible.
“It really helps the players. There are games we haven’t played particularly well but we’ve ground out results, which is massive in the Championship.
“It’s been well-documented that Leeds have been talked about as being a top flight club. Being realistic, they’ve been through a hard time and it’s taken a long time to get them back up, fighting for promotion.
“We know nothing’s done yet. We can still catch the top two. It’s going to be tough but we set ourselves a target and we’re on course for it.”
The same applies to Northern Ireland. Another home win against Norway this weekend will take Dallas and his colleagues another step closer to the play-offs for Russia 2018.