A clean sheet to see off Blackburn Rovers might have been hard earned but it was no fluke as Stoke City ground out a 1-0 win.
Stoke have kept 23 shut outs in 46 league and cup games in a bizarre 2020 – with O’Neill having arrived in November 2019 and inherited a team which had conceded 30 goals in the first 18 games of that season.
No one else in English football has kept more over the calendar year and it was not by chance that Stoke backed themselves to hold out Blackburn’s energetic attack, led by prolific Adam Armstrong.
Michael O’Neill said: “It’s not (a fluke). Players know what to do in the right areas. We do a lot of work on the shape of the team.
“We’re on our third goalkeeper this season. We’ve had a lot of disruption in the team with injuries but we still manage to be consistent with our defensive work.
“There are areas in the team we know we need to improve and players know that themselves.
“Today we were disappointed at times with what we did on the ball but in terms of our spirit and determination to finish the game, having gone ahead early, we couldn’t ask for anymore.”
Tony Mowbray saw his side hit the post through Barry Douglas but despite spending big chunks of the game in Stoke’s half, they couldn’t find a way through.
He said: “You know what Stoke are. Michael has got them very well organised.
“He’s managed Northern Ireland so whenever they play generally they’re playing against some bigger teams and he’s very good at organising teams defensively as their clean sheets record shows.
“It was imperative that we didn’t concede and it was a real sloppy goal, lack of concentration early on.
“It was a frustrating day for us.”