Northern Ireland want to change to winning ways against Israel
International soccer friendly: Northern Ireland v Israel (Windsor Park, 7.45pm tonight)
NORTHERN Ireland will be much-changed from the last time Israel visited Windsor Park, five-and-a-half years ago – but not so much from Saturday, despite defeat by Bosnia & Herzegovina.
Although this match is that new modern rarity, an international friendly, home manager Michael O’Neill isn’t likely to experiment over-much with his selection.
Former Crusaders wide-man Gavin Whyte was praised by both O’Neill and Jonny Evans yesterday, and may get some game-time after scoring goals since his summer move to Oxford United.
Goalkeeper Trevor Carson could also come in, although O’Neill stressed that shouldn’t be regarded as young Bailey Peacock-Farrell being dropped after taking partial blame for both goals on Saturday: “If I do make a change it will not be related to performance, it’s related to people getting the opportunity to play.”
Up front, weekend goal-scorer Will Grigg and Liam Boyce will be pushing for starting slots, especially as centre-forward Kyle Lafferty sat out training yesterday due to an Achilles tendon problem.
“It gives me an opportunity to look at some aspects of it [the squad], said O’Neill. “When you bring players into international football, I don’t think we’re in a position where we can change nine players. To do that, we’d probably have to ask [some] players to play slightly out of position as well.
“I think when you bring players in, you want to give them the best possible chance to do well, so it’s important that you put them into a team that’s cohesive and as strong as possible as well.
“There will be changes to the team – but it will not be a case of ‘I’ll play the lads that didn’t start on Saturday’; I’ll not take that approach.”
Michael O'Neill discusses his GAA career
O’Neill, understandably, was pleased with the display almost everywhere except on the scoreboard against Bosnia, saying: “At home, going forward, those are the type of performances we would like to see. Depending on the opposition obviously as well – if we’re playing Germany or Spain here it’s going to be more difficult to do that.
“But certainly against teams we would regard as being on the same level of European football as we are. It was very pleasing against a team of Bosnia’s standard to play as well as we did, go out and have that level of control.
“Equally, the next phase of that is turning that dominance into goals and, obviously, results.”
Indeed, for all the progress made under O’Neill, NI have won just one of their last eight matches, the friendly against South Korea in March, and it’s more than a year since the last victory at Windsor Park, a 2-0 World Cup qualifier success against the Czech Republic.
That was a fifth consecutive win and O’Neill insisted: “It is time for us to get back to that habit of winning games, which is a good habit.
“We have two very difficult games in October [away to Austria and Bosnia-Herzegovina in the Nations League] and it will be difficult to win those games so it is important we do everything possible to try and beat Israel.”
Although Israel are only currently 82nd in the Fifa World Rankings (and 37th among Uefa members), compared to 23rd (and 15th) for their hosts tonight, O’Neill sees certain similarities:
“They are at the start of something as well. They have had disappointing qualifying campaigns recently. They look at smaller nations like us and think they qualify and they probably feel it is well within their capability to qualify as well.
“The last time they were here [on March 26, 2013] I thought they were good, they were technical and it was a game where we pushed and pushed but ultimately lost 2-0.”
Under recently appointed boss Andi Herzog, the former Austria international, Israel lost their Nations League League C1 opener on Friday 1-0 away to Albania, the only goal scored by Taulant Xhaka, the elder brother of Granit Xhaka of Arsenal and Switzerland.
Their best-known players have Celtic connections past and present, namely Arab-Israeli Beram Kayal – now of Brighton – and Nir Bitton. The also include the Bedouin Talath Twatha, of German side Frankfurt, who played at left wing-back on Friday.
“Whether they play with a three as they did against Albania or whether they change the shape it is quite difficult to read it so we will focus more on us and think about what we can bring to the game,” said O’Neill.
“We’d like to see the same level of performance [as on Saturday], the same intensity and same running power within the team - and also a victory”.