Michael O’Neill sees positives in relegation

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill. Pic: Charles McQuillan/Getty Images
Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill. Pic: Charles McQuillan/Getty Images
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Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill believes the Nations League has been a positive experience for his squad despite their relegation in the competition.

O’Neill’s side have lost all three of their Nations League matches so far, rendering today’s finale against Austria at Windsor Park a dead rubber.

It has been a frustrating campaign, with Northern Ireland having 46 attempts at goal over their three matches but scoring just once.

But O’Neill said he had enjoyed the competition and believes it has done his team good to play alongside Austria and Bosnia and Herzegovina in Group B3.

“I think it’s a positive,” he said. “I’ve enjoyed the Nations League games, genuinely. It’s equipped the team well.”

O’Neill said he and the team have kept their focus on performances rather than results, so could take confidence from recent matches despite the lack of goals.

“The belief has never come out of the team, they just feel they haven’t got what they deserved in the games but 
they know part of that is 
self-inflicted as well,” he said.

“If you don’t take your chances, you can be punished, especially against teams with one special player like [Edin] Dzeko and [Marko] Arnautovic.

“We’ve good competition for places all over the pitch. I’m disappointed to lose the games but I’m not devastated or despondent because I think the team is progressing.”

O’Neill has selection decisions to make for today’s game, having called a number of younger players into the squad following the conclusion of the under-21s season.

Veteran Gareth McAuley could feature after making his Rangers debut on 8 November – his first appearance of the season after starting the campaign without a club.

“It’s great to be back involved in the squad,” the 38-year-old said. “It’s always a pleasure to represent my country and just to be back and getting the buzz of football and being involved in match days.”