UEFA NATIONS LEAGUE : Austria V Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland’s Paddy McNair says the team is targeting a four-point haul from their Nations League trips to Austria and Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Defeat to Bosnia last month leaves Michael O’Neill’s men needing to perform in Vienna and Sarajevo.

“I don’t think it would be the end of the world if we didn’t get three points against Austria,” said McNair.

“If we want to finish top of the group, then I think we need at least four points out of these two games.”

“Austria have some very good players and it’s going to be a test for us.

“Most teams you play now are very good sides so we know we’re going to have to play well on the night to get three points.”

Bosnia-Herzegovina are top of Group B3 after following up their 2-1 victory at Windsor Park with a 1-0 win against Austria three days later, which leaves them six points clear of their opponents.

The Bosnians are favourites to win the pool but O’Neill and his players can take encouragement from their performance in their competition’s opener, when they dominated but failed to convert a glut of chances before conceding two counter-attacking goals.

Paddy McNair of Middlesbrough
McNair played for Manchester United and Sunderland before signing for Middlesbrough in June 2018

The high pressing and high tempo approach used last month was another step in the evolution of the Northern Ireland team under O’Neill, a process that midfielder Oliver Norwood says began during last year’s World Cup play-off defeat by Switzerland when the team had to seize the initiative during the second leg in Basel.

“It’s the way football is going now, the modern game has moved on so much that it’s the way that most teams are going,” said 27-year-old Norwood.

“For me personally it’s similar to how we play at Sheffield United, on the front foot, starting games fast, trying to take the initiative, trying to force the other team on the back foot.

“We’re not saying we’re going to go and do that against Germany and teams like that, the top teams, but in the Nations League, playing against teams of similar level, you want to test yourselves and we want to replicate those performances.”

McNair, who impressed during Northern Ireland’s 3-0 friendly win against Israel last month, believes the players are responding well to their manager’s attacking approach.

“We are having more of the ball. There are more passes and more shots. The boys are enjoying it,” added the 23-year-old Middlesbrough player.

“Nine times out of 10 when you play like that you will win the game.”

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill
Michael O’Neill has been changing Northern Ireland’s style of play in recent months

O’Neill ponders tactics change

McNair could be handed a new role on Friday night as part of the more expansive style of play being adapted by O’Neill during the Nations League campaign.

The versatile Middlesbrough midfielder was deployed at right-back against Israel and could also be asked to play as a right wing-back in Vienna as the team’s shape continues to evolve.

Goalkeeper Bailey Peacock-Farrell is expected to retain his place, but the surprise withdrawal of Kyle Lafferty and the absence of Norwood’s club-mate Conor Washington leaves O’Neill with a dilemma in attack where Liam Boyce, Josh Magennis, Will Grigg and newcomer Kyle Vassell are his striking options.

Grigg, who scored the late consolation goal against Bosnia-Herzegovina in his first appearance after a two-year international absence, has scored three goals for Wigan this season, while Magennis has scored four times in 13 appearances for Championship side Bolton.

Vassell has yet to score for Rotherham United since joining them in the summer while Boyce has scored seven goals for League One side Burton Albion this season.

Austria, who have won eight of their last 10 matches, will be without injured Bayern Munich star David Alaba but West Ham forward Marko Arnautovic is available for the hosts.

Franco Foda’s side are ranked 24th in the latest Fifa rankings, four places above Michael O’Neill’s charges, despite their defeat by the Bosnians.

The final games in the group will see Austria host Bosnia & Herzegovina on Thursday 15 November, with Northern Ireland at home to Austria on 18 November.



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