NI manager Michael O'Neill hails 'positive' end to year

Latvia's Ojeg Laizans contends for possession with NI captain Steven Davis
Latvia's Ojeg Laizans contends for possession with NI captain Steven Davis

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill has praised his side for ending a historic year in winning fashion by beating Latvia 1-0 at Windsor Park.

O'Neill and his side ended a 30-year absence from tournament football by sealing a spot at Euro 2016 last month.

"That's eight games unbeaten now and a clean sheet was good as well. So it was all positive," the NI boss said.

"We've had a great year with some great results and a great campaign. We should celebrate the team's achievements."

Highlights of the international friendly between Northern Ireland and Latvia from Windsor Park

This was Northern Ireland's first friendly win since March 2008.

"This is the last time we will see each other as a group until March. The main thing was to win the game and get a level of performance," O'Neill said.

"We are looking forward to the tournament now. The players have to recognise what has got them here to this point, and the work rate and energy they have put in, along with the belief and confidence they have as a team.

"It was important we maintained that and didn't let our performance dip. The players took that on board."

Captain Steven Davis grabbed the only goal of the game against the Latvians in Belfast to ensure the men in green ended the year on a high.

"It was nice for Steven," O'Neill said.

"His daughter was here, it was maybe the first game she has been to, so a goal and man-of-the-match performance was superb. Once again, he led by example.

"His attitude to the game is the key, in terms of his work rate off the ball and his quality on the ball.

'Rich vein of form'

"It was a great ball from Craig Cathcart and Steven is making a habit of popping up in the box. He's in a rich vein of form for his club too, so long may it continue for us."

O'Neill was also armed with a tongue-in-cheek response for those who have been quick to remind him of the country's barren run in friendlies since he took the job.

"I keep reading these really positive stats from people that go back to 1966, that we haven't won a friendly since then or something," he said.

"Trust me, I wasn't manager back then. I think we should celebrate that we are going to the Euros, rather than dredge these things up."

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