Football/Soccer

Stuart Dallas positive about both Northern Ireland and Leeds

Stuart Dallas is aiming to feature for Northern Ireland against Belarus again on Sunday - and against Estonia tonight.

HIS initials may be ‘SAD' and Stuart Alan Dallas could be forgiven for feeling a little sorry for himself at the moment but he's as positive off the pitch as he is on it.

Injuries have kept him out of the Leeds United starting side over recent months but he insists he's happy to be involved at all – and the same applies with Northern Ireland.

The Cookstown man's versatility, able to play on either flank, and in defence or attack, makes him a likely starter in the Euro 2020 qualifying opener against Estonia tonight and he'd be delighted to make Michael O'Neill's first XI.

“I'll always give everything I have no matter where I play. I've been asked to play in a number of position this season that aren't my strongest position but I just get on with it. I just want to play.

“This is a chance for me to get game-time so I want to put in the best performances I can for Northern Ireland.

“But it's not about me at all. It's about trying to help the team improve and move us forward. I want to help, whether it's on or off the pitch, but obviously I'd love to play in both games.

“At Leeds I've played a lot as a full-back. That's not my strongest position but as a wing-back you can attack a bit more.”

Northern Ireland have adopted that more positive approach in recent times and Dallas believes they'll continue in that manner against both their eastern European visitors, with Belarus coming to Windsor Park on Sunday:

“Michael wants us to play that way. We are only here for two games this week and we have to make sure we give it everything we have and hopefully the rest will take care of itself.

“There are a lot of positives we can take from the Nations League, maybe not results but in terms of performances we played well and can take a lot from it.

“It was good experience for the younger lads who came in and they added a freshness. It was good for them and they are ready to kick on.”

Dallas himself has had to kick his heels a lot over the winter – or at least he would have done if it had not been so sore.

“I feel good, I feel fit,” he reports. “The injury was a frustrating time. It happened on December 1 against Sheffield United, I broke two toes and I was due to come back after about two months and then suffered a stress response on my heel so they thought that would keep me out for another four to six weeks but I was able to get back in three.

“It's been frustrating, though, especially when the team was winning and you weren't a part of it but it's great to be back now and I feel good.

“I've come on in every game since I've been back so I'm still getting game-time no problem. At our place, if you don't play on a Saturday, a certain number of minutes, you automatically play for the reserves on a Monday so you still get that game-time, albeit at Under-23 level but you still have to put a shift in.”

The 27-year-old has been passing on his patience and positivity to his club and international colleague, young goalkeeper Bailey Peacock-Farrell, who was recently dropped by Leeds boss Marcelo Bielsa when he recruited former Real Madrid back-up man ‘Kiko' Casilla.

“I spoke to Bailey when ‘Kiko' came in and told him he's got to understand he won't go through his entire career as a first-choice all the time and to learn from a goalkeeper like ‘Kiko', who has been at one of the best clubs in the world and won three Champions Leagues.

“I think for Bailey to progress even more, he needed to play under a goalkeeper like that.

“Obviously he's disappointed not to be playing, he's a young kid who played a lot of games for us. There's big pressure at Leeds but he has been fantastic for us.”

Unsurprisingly, Dallas says he's loving the challenge of getting Leeds back into the English Premier League, declaring: “It's enjoyable. If you don't enjoy where we are you are playing the wrong game. You'd much rather be challenging for promotion than being in a dogfight at the bottom end of the table.

“We missed a chance last weekend [losing at home to Sheffield United] but we have eight games to go. We are under no illusions about how hard it's going to be and everyone is capable of beating everyone else in that league.

“Everyone keeps thinking Leeds are going to blow up - but I can assure you now we won't.

“When you have something to fight for like a place in the Premier League you can't give up.

“The boys are still positive despite losing to Sheffield United and we've shown we are one of the best, if not the best team in the league - and hopefully we can show that in the last eight games.”

That same enthusiasm surrounds this qualifying group, even though the draw harshly pitted NI in with two of Europe's big guns:

“People will probably look at the group, see Germany and Holland and just think ‘Northern Ireland have no chance' but with the way the fixtures have fallen it has given us a lot more confidence.

“I think we've got to win these two games and then the summer becomes massive for us.

“Without being disrespectful to the opposition, these are games we have to win and if we can do that and take maximum points it puts us in a good position.

“In previous campaigns that momentum has helped us and we've shown we are hard to stop.

“That would then leave the bigger nations coming to us later on in the year needing to win and Windsor Park wouldn't be a nice place to come to, needing a result.

“So if we can pick up maximum points, it will put us in a good position and you'd always rather have the points on the board than trying to play catch-up”.

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