Michael O’Neill wants his Northern Ireland players to show more self-belief on the international stage.
Friday’s 1-0 loss to Austria in Vienna has left Northern Ireland in a relegation battle in the Nations League, but O’Neill is less concerned about that than he is about continuing to develop a young side with an eye on the Euro 2020 qualifiers which begin next year.
After two impressive performances at Windsor Park last month, Northern Ireland were understandably less gung-ho away from home, but O’Neill still wanted to see his side be braver in possession.
“We’re not going to come here and dominate the ball against a team that is predominantly made up of players from the Bundesliga and the Premier League,” he said. “We had eight Championship players on the pitch and three Premier League players on the pitch. That’s the make up of our squad.
“It is a step up for a lot of our players to come to this kind of arena against these kinds of players.
“They have to realise they are good enough to compete, they are good enough to play at this level.
“That’s the challenge, but for some of them, they are at the very infancy of their international careers and sometimes having that self belief and ability to go and play on the front foot, it takes time and experience and they’ll be better for having played here.”
Marko Arnautovic’s 71st-minute goal was enough to settle the match in Austria’s favour, with Northern Ireland close to an equaliser when substitute Will Grigg hit the post with an 84th-minute header.
Grigg then hobbled off at the end with a hamstring injury, leaving O’Neill short of options up front for Monday’s trip to Bosnia and Herzegovina with Kyle Lafferty having withdrawn from the squad and Liam Boyce sidelined with a knee injury.
Kyle Vassell came on to make his debut as a second-half substitute and the Rotherham striker could find himself involved again in Sarajevo.
“The mood is one of frustration, because the boys believed, we felt we could have got something out of the game, definitely,” Vassell said after the game.
“But that’s football and we have to pick ourselves up and go again on Monday.
“On a personal note, it’s a milestone in my career, my international debut, and I couldn’t be happier. I’ve already had all my messages from my family saying they’re so proud of me.”
The 25-year-old admitted he was scrambling to be ready when O’Neill turned to him in the 76th minute.
“I was just warming up and got the shout, ‘Get your kit on’, so it all came about very quickly,” he said.
“I didn’t have my pads on, so it took me a minute to get my pads on, but when the shout came I was ready and I worked hard when I came on.
“I wouldn’t call it superstition, it’s just something I do, I couldn’t tell you why, I never sit on the bench with may pads on.”