Michael O’Neill was delighted to see Dion Charles bag his first international goals as the manager’s second stint as Northern Ireland boss began with a 2-0 European Championship qualifying win in San Marino.
It was not a spectacular performance from Northern Ireland but O’Neill’s only concern was to collect three points at the start of the Group H campaign and to that extent it was job done.
Bolton striker Charles made the difference, scoring in either half to break his international duck on the night of his 14th cap, albeit this only being his second start.
“When a player is playing club football in League One as Dion is, the international stage is a step up and when you step up its important that you prove yourself and you score,” O’Neill said.
“I thought he was terrific. He was how I’ve seen him playing for his club, he’s all-action and a nightmare to defend. He’s constantly working and I’m delighted he got the two goals.”
The 27-year-old, who has worked his way back up the divisions since being released by Blackpool almost a decade ago, has scored 18 in 42 this term for Wanderers. Northern Ireland must hope he can be the natural goalscorer they have been looking for.
“You go back to when David (Healy) was scoring regularly and Kyle (Lafferty) at times, they were scoring at international level when they maybe weren’t scoring for their clubs or playing regularly. They’re all situations we’ve had to deal with.
“Dion as a striker is maybe making up for lost time. He spent four years out of the Football League and he had to come from a long way back to get to where he is now and he looks like a player who is determined to to get everything out of his career going forward.”
O’Neill has seemed relaxed in the build-up to his first game in charge of the side since November 2019, but equally he has been determined to make sure nothing stopped his side from earning three points against minnows San Marino.
“I was pleased to win the game,” he said. “That was the objective coming here. I was pleased with a lot about the performance, we had total dominance from start to finish and there was a lot we asked of the players in three days with a new coaching staff, and a lot of new players in the squad.
“We were asking a lot to be fair and they tried to do everything we asked. It still needs work but there were a lot of positives…
“If we’d played terribly and won 1-0 I’d still have been happy. Most importantly we played in a system that we wanted. We didn’t create clear-cut openings as we would have liked but we were playing against 10 men behind the ball for the best part of 90 minutes.”
“I’m not big for all that sort of thing but it’s nice,” O’Neill said. “It’s nice to be back. I want to build a team that fans can be proud of. Whether they sing my name or not is a side issue. The most important thing is we build a side that excites people and that they want to come and watch.
“Hopefully we get that on Sunday (at home to Finland)…We are missing some big players but we saw little glimpses of the future in the players we had on the pitch.”