Football/Soccer

Northern Ireland's Conor McLaughlin laughs off Ronald Koeman criticism

Conor McLaughlin is aiming to regain the number two jersey for Northern Ireland.
Photo Mark Marlow/Pacemaker Press

A SLAP in the face? Or a back-handed compliment?

Northern Ireland defender Conor McLaughlin took the latter view of Netherlands’ boss Ronald Koeman’s churlish criticism after their 3-1 home win in Rotterdam last month.

The former Everton and Southampton manager claimed the visitors’ tactics were “outrageous” and “terrible to watch” after they held out for almost 80 minutes before conceding.

However, McLaughlin says he took no offence: “I sort of just laughed at his comment. I think the fact he came out and said that is sort of a compliment to us because we frustrated them that much and he obviously wasn’t happy with his own team’s performance.

“If his comments deflect away from that then we rattled them at the time and we take a lot of confidence from that. I’m sure they won’t be expecting an easy game.

“We also rattled Germany [at Windsor Park] and could have been one or two up. They looked uneasy at times and I’m sure the fans will play their part, too.”

The return fixture against the Dutch in the Euro 2020 qualifiers is this Saturday night and the Sunderland right-back is sure that any arrogance or complacency will have gone from the visitors:

“Gini Wijnaldum came out after the game and said he felt we played well and I’m sure a lot of players had respect for us already. But after that performance I’m sure they’ll know it won’t be an easy game.”

The 28-year-old McLaughlin has lost his starting place on the international scene but hopes that regular club football can help him regain it after his free transfer move to the `Stadium of Light’ in the summer:

“I’m just trying to play every week at my club. The last couple of years at Millwall were frustrating because I was in and out and you can’t get any sort of form going.

“When you then come away [with Northern Ireland] it’s hard to get your game going but I’ve been playing well at Sunderland and hopefully that is the start of something for me.”

It’ll soon be the end for NI boss Michael O’Neill, who has taken the Stoke City post, although he is due to continue until the end of the qualification process.

However, there’s no resentment about O’Neill moving on, insists McLaughlin: “Over the last eight years he’s done an unbelievable job. He’s helped us as players to get moves and get rewards for what we’ve done on the pitch and it’s only just that he gets his rewards, too.

“I am surprised he’s been here so long. You see other managers from different countries get moves off the back of their records and maybe it hasn’t been the right job for him to go before but he deserves this move.

“He spoke to us but the focus is just on these two games and everything has been normal in that sense and he’s here for the rest of the campaign”.

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Football/Soccer