Northern Ireland tinker to find flexible solutions
Michael O’Neill is looking to continue tinkering with Northern Ireland’s formation as he wants adaptable systems to cause other countries problems at Euro 2016.
In the 1-1 draw with Wales in Cardiff on Thursday night, O’Neill switched from a first-half 3-5-2 to the 4-3-3 he preferred in a qualifying campaign in which Northern Ireland finished top of their group.
The advantage of playing three centre-backs is that it allows O’Neill to play Jonny Evans, Gareth McAuley and Craig Cathcart, although his side were more effective going forward after the break when they reverted to a back four after striker Conor Washington was withdrawn.
Reflecting on the Wales game, he said: “We were a little bit disappointed that maybe we didn’t have more of an attacking threat with that system.
“There’s always comfort as a coach and a manager when you say you’re going to change to four. We threw Jonny in at left-back and he doesn’t bat an eyelid and we played 4-3-3 and are able to deal with it.
“It’s exactly what we want. In the summer we are going to have to be flexible. Either system has strengths or weaknesses depending on how the game’s going.
“The most important thing between now and the end of the sum- mer is that the players are able to adapt to it and understand it very quickly.”
One player who is imperative to the Northern Irish in either system is striker Kyle Lafferty, who played 81 minutes against the Welsh, despite totalling just 45 minutes all season for club side Norwich.
After Lafferty completed a loan switch to Birmingham earlier in the week, O’Neill hopes he will get up to speed by the time Northern Ireland reach France, adding: “Having a good finish to the season means he’ll be in a better frame of mind when he comes away with us in the summer.”