Northern Ireland: Boss Michael O’Neill admits ‘process is painful’ but ‘bigger picture’ is vital10 September 2023
Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill has admitted their miserable Euro 2024 qualifying campaign has started to feel like Groundhog Day.
After Sunday's 1-0 defeat in Kazakhstan, O'Neill urged the country's supporters to be patient while he tries to mould a new team.
The loss in Astana was NI's fifth in a row and leaves them with three points from six games.
"It has been a little bit [like Groundhog Day]," O'Neill said.
"This is our third time together as a group in terms of my time back in charge so there is a process we're having to go through a little bit, which is painful."
A severe injury list has robbed O'Neill of up to 18 players at various stages of this qualifying campaign, forcing him to blood young players more quickly than planned.
The five successive defeats - four of which were by a 1-0 scoreline - have also meant that a group that began with genuine optimism of qualification has become a dismal one for the team and supporters.
"We just have to play through this period," O'Neill continued. "I think the team in many ways is developing.
"People may argue against that based on the results, but I have to look at the bigger picture in terms of where the team has to go in the next 12 to 18 months.St Mirren winger Conor McMenamin missed Northern Ireland's best chance
"We just have to persevere with what we're doing. I think a lot of what we're doing with the team is the right way to approach it, but in this campaign we've had four 1-0 defeats and the margins in all the games have been very narrow."
He added: "For a lot of those lads, it's always nicer to come into international football for the first time and you're winning games, it's always easier to come into a team that's doing well.
"I reflect back to the lead-in to Euro 2016 and you had the likes of Stuart Dallas and Paddy McNair come into the team and we were always going well. It's always an easier process.
"Now we're trying to introduce players into a team when the results are not so good so it's more challenging for the players."
Having adapted a more attacking style of play in Thursday night's 4-2 defeat away to Slovenia, Northern Ireland were more defensive against Kazakhstan.
They looked comfortable in possession for most of the game, particularly when passing the ball at the back, but fell to an excellent Maxim Samorodov goal in the 27th minute.
They missed a golden first-half chance when the home goalscorer tracked back to stop Conor McMenamin prodding home when Matty Kennedy's mis-hit shot was rolling towards the goal line.
Again, as O'Neill has alluded to previously, Northern Ireland came out on the wrong side of the fine margins.
"I think it followed quite a similar pattern for us," O'Neill added.
"Obviously the goal in the game is the only defining moment. We started the game well, we were dominating but our play in the final third let us down. We're lacking a little bit in that area at the minute, obviously."
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