Saturday 19 January 2019

O'Neill: North on track

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill
Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill

Michael O'Neill expects his Northern Ireland players to plot the route to Russia now a 2-0 success over Norway has taken them to 10 World Cup qualification points.

An opening effort from Jamie Ward inside 90 seconds was followed by Conor Washington continuing his run of scoring every time he has started in Belfast, with the Northern Irish staying second in Group C at the campaign's halfway stage.

O'Neill considers the double-point figure as a mental marker for his squad, who will travel to Azerbaijan in June knowing they currently hold one of the eight play-off berths for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

This victory left the Norwegians seven points adrift of them with five games to go, and a gap of six would be opened up over the Azeris with an away win in Baku.

"We're in a great position," O'Neill said.

"With each game you get that level of belief and this was a game that I was apprehensive about - just going against such an experienced coach as Lars Lagerback.

"Norway came with nothing to lose, they had to win the game to keep themselves alive in the group and that made them a very dangerous opponent.

"We took care of the job. We've given ourselves a substantial cushion over Norway. We have a difficult game in Baku, but we couldn't go into it in better shape."

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