Michael O’Neill has been fielding questions about stress, strikers and shuffling his pack this afternoon as he prepares Stoke City to take on Hull tomorrow.
It is a vital game for both clubs at the wrong end of the Championship – so here is every word from the manager’s media briefing.
How do you feel about the league position?
Michael O’Neill: If we’d come into that three-game week I think we would have been delighted with seven points. That was our target and nine would have been wonderful.
The important thing is we have put the disappointment of the nature of the result at Luton behind us. Not disappointment in terms of the actual result but the nature of the result and how it occurred, you’re always a wee bit concerned about that.
But the players have been great this week.
Yes, we are disappointed that the five points hasn’t changed our position that much, but as I’ve said all along we are not really in control of that.
We have tried not to focus on where we are in the league or what anyone else is doing, our focus has purely been on how we get points.
We’ve 10 games left and I think five home, five away.
Our home form is good, we have emphasised that to the players and the form overall has been relatively good since November. That’s what we need to carry on over the next 10 games and we have to make sure we get the required number of points whatever that might be.
Everybody talks about the magical 50 point barrier which is four wins out of 10, which will take us over that, but equally we just want to maintain our level of form and we have a good opportunity tomorrow against a team having a difficult period.
We have to not get too involved in everything else around the situation and just focus on the next game that comes along and that’s the way we’ve approached it this week.
How important is this home game against Hull?
I think the next four games in particular we are playing teams around us.
I don’t like to say it’s any more important than the Luton game. Is it any more important because we draw the game as opposed to winning it?
When we have the chance to play someone where three points will take us above them, then we do have to consider that and a way of getting up the table consistently.
What we want to do is maintain an unbeaten run and continue with that but equally we want to win games as well. I think over the piece in our 10 home games here our home form is perhaps third in the division so that’s a positive for us.
We can’t dwell too much on the opposition, other than tactically. Equally they could win their last nine games and we’d be in no more control.
The focus has purely been on how we approach the game.
I felt we were poor in the last Hull game possibly. That was possibly the game where I had my most disappointment during my time here. Having gone ahead we were poor in the second half in particular.
I think we are a different team from the team that played in December in terms of personnel, shape and the work we’ve continued with the team as well.
Our focus is purely on the three points and if that lifts us up the table we’ll be delighted.
What is the latest injury news?
Pretty good. Training numbers have been high.
Ryan (Shawcross) has been back with us and trained all week. James (McClean) isn’t back yet but Stephen Ward has been training as well.
Our numbers have been good, which is a positive because coming into the last 10 games and a busy Easter period you are going to need bodies and we;’re going to need freshness.
We have a doubt over Jordan Cousins who picked up a nasty cut in the game at Luton. He’s our only doubt other than James who’s out and the longer term ones like Thibaud.
It’s been good to have Ryan back. He’s trained well. We’re mindful of when it will be the right time to reintroduce him but it’s been a real positive to have him back on the training pitch.
Fans questioned your subs at Luton – would you play a more positive team tomorrow?
We have to be mindful of the situation.
In the first half I thought we were very good and should have been more than one ahead. Second half we were playing away from home against a team who had very little to lose. While they had more possession I didn’t think they created many opportunities.
We looked in the scenario of where players are physically as well. Luton had played two home games and we had played two away games and had to travel. All those are factors about the freshness of the team.
We freshened the team up with three new starting players.
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Yes, when you lose a goal in the last minute you can reflect on the substitutions and equally if we had won 1-0 all the subs would have been correct. It’s the decision of the referee which influences that.
I think we picked the right team. We’ve continually done that.
I thought young Nathan came in against Blackburn and did well. There are some things in his play which we’ve been through with him in areas.
James Chester came back in with his experience and was very unfortunate on the penalty decision in terms of the challenge he makes.
Our focus is always to try to win the game and we had chances second half as well.
What we didn’t do well enough was probably that we were a little bit wasteful on the counter attack.
You have to be realistic and expect the home team to have some portion of the game, but it was almost a perfect away performance and it would have been our third clean sheet in a week but ultimately the referee took that out of our hands.
Do you worry that Stoke don’t have clinical enough strikers? Or that fans will be worried if Hull take the lead?
What we want is that stress levels remain realistic. It’s stressful enough, so it is!
I wouldn’t necessarily agree that (we don’t have clinical forwards). Ok, at this minute in time, we don’t have a striker with double figures in the league. There are probably a few clubs in the same position. It would be nice to have someone.
I think we have got a brilliant young striker in Tyrese Campbell.
I was pleased with how Sam Vokes played last week, not only with the goal but his overall contribution, and it’s maybe hard when they are not playing regularly to get a scoring run.
Where we have been good is that we’ve got areas from other areas of the team as well.
At home we need to create as much a positive environment as possible. That’s from the team playing, the coaches and manager in terms of preparation of the team, the supporters.
The away has been magnificent and at home too. The support we have had here when the team has been on the front foot playing.
We have to possibly not show anxiety if the opposition take the lead or score or have a portion of play in the game. That’s inevitable in the situation.
We need a high-energy performance on the front foot and that’s been the message to the players all week. The fact they’ve had a full week, the recovery is good and training is excellent.
When I look at them I’m confident we will get the performance we want and hopefully the result as well.
Is March the month we can get out of this given the fixtures?
There’s an opportunity to do that, with the next four games.
The danger is if you look too far ahead in this league. There are results you don’t expect and it’s very difficult to pick where you think teams may or may not get points.
So we’ve got an opportunity – two home and two away before the international break – and I believe they are all games we are capable of winning. But I’ve not really gone to any game since I came here and felt we couldn’t win it, to be honest.
There will be many different results and results people don’t expect.
There are teams in bad runs of form doing everything possible to get out of that and teams on good runs of form which are probably thinking, ‘When is this going to end?’
That’s something you can’t get draw into.
The one thing I’ve always said to the players is that we are in control of is our level of performance.
Sometimes you’re not in control of the result because of the opposition or what happens in the game or decisions which go for or against you.
But what we are in control of is preparation of the team and level of performance. I want to maintain that, and equally increase it, because I still think there’s more in the team.
They are playing in difficult circumstances but I believe we have the right character and mentality to win games in this type of situation.
You’ve had plenty of problems in your short time here?
Yes, it’s been a very full on job, a full on situation. I’ve enjoyed the challenge of it. I knew what I was walking into.
The great thing for me is I can never say of these players in training session or any game that there’s been a lack of effort.
At times we have been disappointed with quality. I think sometimes that’s down to the situation of the club and because my expectations of the players is high because we have a lot of good players in the building.
But in terms of effort or application, even when results have gone against us, I’ve never come in thinking they didn’t give us everything they had. That’s all we can ask.
What we want to see in the remaining 10 games is even to increase the level of the quality.
We have shown that in large portion of games and we want to continue that and add to it. Hopefully that translates into the results we need.
Fans forum on Monday – have you got your tin hat if we lose tomorrow?
No, I haven’t!
At the end of the day if you’re manager you have to accept fans have opinions and that’s a big part of football.
I will answer any questions that come my way in as direct and honest a way as possible.
I think the people who’ve got to know me since I’ve been in here know I try to do that in all cases.
I’m not going to try to lead fans a merry dance and say we are doing amazingly well and equally we are not doing terribly.
We inherited a difficult situation and I think we have made it better and the focus between now and the end of the season is to continue that.
Centre halves – why so many changes over your time at the club?
Mainly it’s been injuries.
I felt when we took Bruno out of central defence I thought he was struggling a little bit to be honest and now looks more comfortable at left back.
Ryan has come back in and gone back out of the team because of injury so we’ve not been able to get any consistency out of Ryan.
Nathan (Collins) is a very young player and we have to be realistic. If you look around the Championship and Premier League there are not many 18-year-old centre-backs playing on a regular basis. We have to be mindful of that and where he is in his development.
We brought James Chester in for his experience. We knew we had a player who had come back having not played a lot of football in the last 12 months so he has to be managed in a three-game week.
Liam Lindsay went out of the team after the Derby game, which I didn’t think was one of his better games, but overall I have been pleased with Liam then he picked up an injury in training.
Overall we need competition. We have five centre-backs if you look at Bruno in terms of being a left-back in the current situation.
Going forward, I would be looking to try to stabilise and have a consistent pairing at centre back,.
Whether that is in the next 10 games or going forward into next season that would has to be our objective.