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O´Neill boosted by Northern Ireland depth

Michael O’Neill was boosted by a new-found depth in his Northern Ireland squad despite a 3-0 friendly defeat to Croatia at Windsor Park.

O’Neill made five changes from the side that defeated Azerbaijan 4-0 in a World Cup qualifier in Belfast on Friday and handed a debut to Rochdale midfielder Matthew Lund.

However, goals from Mario Mandzukic, Duje Cop and Andrej Kramaric ended a run of 11 internationals at home without defeat.

But the Northern Ireland boss was keen to focus on the performances of his fringe players rather than dwell on the result.

“We’re disappointed to lose. We knew it was going to be a tough game, we basically had to piece a team together,” he said in a post-match television interview.

“When we look back there’ll be things we’ll be pleased by. It shows our strength. We were stretched a little bit, but the focus was to win the Azerbaijan game and we did that.

“These lads on the fringes of the squad are playing their club football at a lower level, so we can only judge them by putting them on the pitch.

“There were more positives. Liam Boyce I was pleased with as well. It was nice to see they can handle it at this level.”

O’Neill is keen for Northern Ireland to return to competitive action and cement their second place in Group C of World Cup qualification with a victory over Norway in March.

He added: “This is the first time we’ve had a friendly after a competitive game – we probably wouldn’t do it again to be honest.

“We’ll be ready in March and I’ve just said that to the players. We’ve got a big game against Norway in March and a chance to put ourselves on 10 points in the group and in an even stronger position.”

Tue 15 Nov, 2016
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