Michael O’Neill’s homecoming – Northern Ireland versus Finland talking points

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Michael O’Neill will make his homecoming on Sunday night when he takes charge of his first Northern Ireland home game since returning to the job in December.

Finland will represent a much tougher challenge than San Marino as O’Neill’s side look to build on Thursday’s 2-0 victory and make a perfect start to Euro 2024 qualifying.

Here the PA news agency looks at the main talking points ahead of the match.

Windsor nights

Northern Ireland v Cyprus – UEFA Nations League – Group 2 – Windsor Park
Michael O’Neill has highlighted the need to rebuild the relationship between the Northern Ireland team and their fans (Niall Carson/PA)

Home comforts

Northern Ireland v Kosovo – UEFA Nations League – Group J – Windsor Park
O’Neill said it was essential for his side to be hard to beat at home (Liam McBurney/PA)


Northern Ireland v Italy – FIFA World Cup 2022 – European Qualifying – Group C – Windsor Park
Stand-in captain Craig Cathcart will lead the side out at Windsor Park (Liam McBurney/PA)

Strike partners

Northern Ireland have long struggled to score, having been looking for a reliable threat in front of goal since Kyle Lafferty’s goals dried up soon after Euro 2016. Dion Charles announced his candidacy as he got off the mark with two goals in San Marino, and he formed an encouraging partnership with Conor Washington. “It takes time,” O’Neill said of the alliance. “They’re both players who carry a threat in behind, work hard and press together. If you play a front two you need that. With this system we’re playing the front two are essential to how the team functions.”

Youthful exuberance

Aside from Dion Charles, the most encouraging displays in San Marino came from two teenagers in Conor Bradley and Shea Charles. O’Neill now has a decision to make on whether the pair are ready to go again. Dropping them would seem harsh, but are they ready for a second start in the space of a few days against much more experienced opposition? The more defensive-minded Trai Hume could make a case to replace Bradley on club form, while Jordan Thompson offers an experienced alternative to Shea Charles.

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