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Sunday 17 December 2017

O'Neill rallies fans for his North debut

MICHAEL O'NEILL has called for Northern Ireland fans to welcome in a new era by throwing their support behind the team at Windsor Park tonight.

O'Neill takes charge of his country for the first time against Norway, with a new captain in tow in the shape of Rangers midfielder Steven Davis.

And the former Shamrock Rovers boss is also hoping for a fresh start with the Green and White Army, who grew audibly frustrated towards the end of a disappointing Euro 2012 campaign. Former manager Nigel Worthington shouldered most of the flak then and O'Neill has appealed for supporters to back their team from the off against Egil Olsen's side.

"It's a new start under a new manager," said O'Neill. "You can understand the frustration of the supporters, but no-one feels the pain of defeat any more than the players, I can assure them of that.

"It's no secret the last campaign finished on a disappointing note. The players know that, everyone knows that, but that unrealistic weight of expectancy is something the players have maybe struggled to deal with in the past.

"A bit of perspective would be nice."

O'Neill confirmed Davis would lead the side for the foreseeable future yesterday, despite former skipper Aaron Hughes' decision to reverse his retirement and return to the squad after less than six months.

"Steven Davis is the captain and he will be the captain going forward," said O'Neill.

"I had a long chat with Aaron about the situation and he was, as you'd expect, totally supportive and understanding."

"He didn't have any expectation to come back as captain having made his decision (to retire) towards the end of the last campaign, he was very supportive of Steven and very supportive of the decision."

Wales coach Osian Roberts says the squad are desperate to produce a performance to honour Gary Speed's memory when they face Costa Rica in the game dedicated to their late manager tonight.

The Cardiff City Stadium clash marks the first time Wales have played since Speed died in November, and is set to be a hugely emotional occasion for those involved with the national side.

Roberts said: "The circumstances are difficult but everybody is keen to get out there and perform to the best of their ability and put a performance on that's worthy of the man himself. But we honestly don't know how the players will react."

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