O'Neill looks forward after disappointing start

O'Neill looks forward after disappointing start

Michael O’Neill is preparing for a difficult few months after his first match in charge of Northern Ireland ended in a 3-0 loss to Norway at Windsor Park.

O’Neill’s tenure started positively with an energetic first-half display but a deflected goal from Havard Nordtveit and two late efforts by Tarik Elyounoussi and Espen Ruud left the hosts with a disappointing scoreline.

O’Neill only met some of his players on Monday and will not get the chance to lead the side again until the June 2 friendly against Holland, meaning he has plenty of time to pore over the result.

And although the former Shamrock Rovers boss accepts that is far from ideal, he hopes to learn from the performance.

“I thought the scoreline was slightly harsh on us but I’m disappointed with the result, you can’t get away from that,” he said.

“It’s disappointing to lose two late goals when we were pushing to get something out of the game.

“We don’t have a game for three months now and that’s a long time to carry a defeat around with you, but unfortunately that’s what I’m going to have to do.

“It’s very difficult be analytical so soon after the game but I’ll look at the game again in the cold light of day and I’m sure I’ll find plenty of positives.

“The next game is away to Holland, which is a difficult game. It’ll be a big challenge but we have to prepare for difficult opposition because we have Russia and Portugal [in our World Cup qualifying group].”

O’Neill’s team selection showed a handful of changes from the Nigel Worthington era, with Manchester United’s Jonny Evans given the chance to establish himself at centre-back and Gareth McAuley moved to right-back.

There were also starting berths for Kilmarnock forward Dean Shiels and Newcastle’s Shane Ferguson – both of whom enjoyed less than ideal personal relationships with Worthington and were out of the international set-up for the past two years.

O’Neill has wasted no time re-integrating the pair, though, and praised their response.

He said: “In the first half we did a lot of good stuff, played well and got a lot of possession.

“Dean Shiels had a good 90 minutes dropping in to the hole I thought.

“Shane, I thought, did extremely well too. He was very bright every time he was in possession and worked very hard in terms of the shape of the team.”

While the result extends Northern Ireland’s run to five defeats in a row, O’Neill refused to be downcast, instead focusing on the positive aspects of his first time in charge of the squad.

“The whole experience was positive really, bar the result,” he said.

“There’s no benefit going in to the dressing room and being anything other than constructive.

“We’ve had three days working with these lads and you try to be as positive as possible.”

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