Sunday 17 December 2017

Paterson ends O'Neill's long wait for North win

MICHAEL O'NEILL finally tasted victory as Northern Ireland manager last night thanks to a performance that left Russia boss Fabio Capello dumbfounded.

After nine matches and 20 months without a win O'Neill was able to celebrate his first success at international level – a 1-0 win at Windsor Park coming courtesy of Martin Paterson's 43rd-minute header.

It may not be enough to put Northern Ireland back in the hunt for World Cup qualification from Group F, but it was a hugely meaningful result for O'Neill.

Capello, the former England coach who earns a figure reported to be close to £8million a year with Russia, conceded his side had been outplayed at Windsor Park.

The Italian's first competitive match as Russia boss was a 2-0 win over Northern Ireland in Moscow and he had expected a smooth ride in Belfast.

"I never saw the Northern Ireland team play so fast, so strong," he said.

"I thought this was the best this team has played. I saw three games they played before this game and they never ran so far, so quick.

"They played with speed and determination. they were always first to the ball."

Former Shamrock Rovers boss O'Neill admitted it was a huge relief to close out a win at the 10th time of asking, against opponents ranked 93 places above his side in the FIFA ladder.

"It was a great occasion for us and very satisfying for me personally. The players were magnificent from start to finish and deserved to win," he said.

"It was very sweet. I've had a few disappointments in the job so far, so to win makes it a very special night for me.

"I said in the past when you have so few games and such a long time between the defeats and the draws that you carry them around much longer than at club level. At least I've got a couple of weeks to carry this one around."

O'Neill had special praise for Paterson and Jamie Ward, an eye-catching forward pairing who might have been on the bench had Kyle Lafferty (Achilles) and Chris Brunt (suspended) been available.

O'Neill said: "Martin was brilliant. I was delighted for him. It was a great header. Jamie Ward was outstanding too. He was excellent with the quality of his play and his intelligence on the ball."

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