9 October 2014 21:37
Northern Ireland head into their Euro 2016 qualifying clash with the Faroe Islands buoyed by a dramatic victory in Hungary last month.
Michael O’Neill’s side looked to be heading for defeat in their opening Group F encounter in Budapest until goals from Niall McGinn and Kyle Lafferty in the last 10 minutes secured a 2-1 win.
Northern Ireland will be expected to follow that triumph up by securing another three points against a nation ranked 179 in the world at Windsor Park on Saturday.
Home draws against the minnows of Luxembourg and Azerbaijan in their World Cup 2014 qualifying campaign are still fresh in the memory, though, and the versatile Chris Baird knows there can be no repeat of those results this weekend.
“Traditionally, these are the type of games we have slipped up in before,” the West Brom man is quoted as saying on UEFA’s official website.
“But the confidence we can take from last month’s win in Hungary is massive. Three points would leave us with maximum points from two games, so it’s a huge incentive.”
O’Neill can take heart from the fact that his country beat the Faroes 4-0 the last time they met in August 2011, when Paddy McCourt stole the show with two goals and an assist.
Brighton and Hove Albion winger McCourt has not featured in a competitive international since facing Israel in March last year, but he is back in the squad for the game against the Faroes and Tuesday’s qualifier in Greece.
O’Neill hinted that he is ready to unleash the former Celtic man on Lars Christian Olsen’s side at Windsor Park, which has a new playing surface and will have a reduced capacity crowd of 10,000 due to redevelopment work.
The home side, who have never qualified for a European Championship and have not featured in a major tournament since the 1986 World Cup, will be without Manchester United defender Jonny Evans due to an ankle injury.
Christian Lamhauge Holst’s strike gave the Faroe Islands a shock lead in their Group F opener against Finland, but the visitors responded to secure a 3-1 victory.
Goalkeeper Gunnar Nielsen noted Northern Ireland’s struggles against so-called lesser opposition in their World Cup qualifying campaign and has warned them not to expect an easy ride on Saturday
“Northern Ireland started very well winning their first game in Hungary and with them being at home on Saturday they will be big favourites, but we are coming to Belfast feeling optimistic,” he told the Belfast Telegraph.
“It would be massive for all of us in the squad and the country if we could get a result away from home against a strong Northern Ireland team.
“We have been good in games at keeping a clean sheet in the first half but then maybe because we tire we concede goals in the second half. This time we will aim to keep the clean sheet for 90 minutes and make it hard for our opponents.
“It definitely gives us hope that in their last campaign Northern Ireland struggled against the smaller teams and of course we drew 1-1 with them a few years ago [in a European Championship qualifier in 2010]. We believe in ourselves that we can get a good result.”