Northern Ireland try to take positives from another negative outcome
Uefa Nations League B3: Northern Ireland 1 Austria 2
IF anyone utters the phrase ‘the luck of the Irish’ around this Northern Ireland squad they might just get punched, no matter what the listener’s political persuasion is – but it still wouldn’t hurt as much as this Nations League has.
The hosts were already down but they suffered another sucker punch as Austria scored a last-gasp winner, with a counter-attack that encapsulated this campaign for Michael O’Neill’s men.
The fact that NI had ended a competitive goal drought spanning more than two-and-a-half matches brought some joy – but it mattered not a jot, not even to goalscorer Corry Evans, who ended his own eight-year wait for another international goal.
“It’s always disappointing when you lose the game with the last kick of the ball,” said the 28-year-old, “but we can take a lot of positives out of the performance.
“The manner of the way we played; going a goal down, we came back to level the game and at that stage it looked like we were the only side going to go win the game but it wasn’t to be.
“We have to take great confidence from the way we have been playing in the campaign and take that into the Euro 2020 qualifiers.”
The draw for those will take place in Dublin next month, the setting for another disappointing result last week, but winger Niall McGinn is hoping for some positivity from the pots:
"We have played against all the big teams but getting the likes of England here to Windsor Park would be unbelievable - to play against players you see on the television in the Premier League all the time.
"The likes of Spain, too, but there are loads of teams. If we get the chance to play these teams in friendlies or the Euros - so be it.
"We are just looking forward to the draw and we will dust ourselves down now, go back to our clubs over the next three or four months."
The Donaghmore man acknowledged: “We are disappointed with the result but we have to take the positives from the performances…
"There were maybe times in this campaign that we have played a lot better than we did in the previous campaigns, when we maybe hung in there at times to get the right results.
"But this is a results-based business and you have to win games and that breeds confidence. The confidence is always there in the squad and the performances have shown that, but maybe the final ball or getting ahead in games and holding out is what we are missing.
Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill insisted that another, fourth loss was unfair on his side: "We didn't deserve to lose the game, there's no doubt about that. We matched them in the first half and our reaction to going behind was excellent.
"We played very well and I thought from the 80th minute we looked the more likely to win the game.
"But we tired a little bit and that's to be expected playing with a lot of players who aren't playing regular first-team football and I think that was evident in the final five or six minutes of the game in particular.”
Still, the abiding memories of this inaugural Nations League will be bitter, accepted O’Neill: "We've lost the four games and we can't get away from that, we can't try to sugar-coat that in any way. But I think, on the balance of performances, the results have been extremely harsh on us.
"I think people have to realise that we are asking young players to step up from sometimes Championship level, and sometimes League One level, and it is going to take time and there's a lot of learning to be done”.