Corry Evans believes Northern Ireland can take confidence from improved performances into next month’s crucial UEFA Nations League trips to Austria and Bosnia & Herzegovina.
Although Michael O’Neill’s men contrived to lose Saturday’s Nations League opener against Bosnia 2-1, their domination of possession and creation of a string of chances brought optimism, while execution was on display in Tuesday’s 3-0 friendly win over Israel.
Northern Ireland will reconvene in a month’s time to travel to Vienna and Sarajevo, knowing they need to get points on the board quickly in the new Nations League format.
“Saturday was a disappointing one, but the result didn’t match up with the performance,” Blackburn’s Evans said.
“We were probably a lot more clinical in front of goal against Israel and that was the difference in the two games.
“Overall, we can take a lot of confidence from both performances. We’ll take the positives from these two games and go to the Austria game and see what we can do.”
Northern Ireland came into the week having won only one in seven, making Tuesday’s victory vital to restoring belief.
“It’s important to win and hopefully create that momentum,” Evans said. “Our aim now is to do well in those next two games.”
Despite the result, Northern Ireland bossed the Bosnia game, enjoying 67 per cent possession and having 26 total attempts on goal. Those numbers were reduced against an Israel team that did not defend so deeply, but Evans is enjoying the team’s attacking approach.
“Michael is trying to get us to play with a bit more intensity, on the front foot and get us up the pitch instead of starting in our own half,” he said.
“We want to try and win the ball high up and go from there. I think we’ve got the legs for it and we’re more than capable of doing it.”
Tuesday’s win was highlighted by Gavin Whyte’s debut goal – scored with his first touch in international football – adding to the sense that Northern Ireland have some talented youngsters coming into the squad as Jamal Lewis and Bailey Peacock-Farrell also made their first competitive appearances on Saturday.
“I think we’re disappointed to lose the likes of Chris Brunt (to retirement) but that’s the nature of international football,” Evans added. “It’s nice to see the new boys come in and do well.
“Throughout the whole squad we’ve got real competition for places and it’s getting stronger. It’s probably the strongest I’ve seen it. It’s great for Michael to have those options.”