Just a very quick pre-match comment on the progress of Michael O’Neill’s Northern Ireland.
The trip to Russia ended in disappointment, but not disgrace. There were tentative signs that O’Neill is beginning to drill some organisation into his side defensively.
The team kept its shape quite effectively while the Russians played their fluid passing game and the best chances were created because of individual errors. That said, Northern Ireland gave the ball away much too easily, and there were few signs of the clever, mobile offensive tactics which O’Neill wants to introduce.
2-0 was as good a result as the fans had a right to expect, especially since Russia’s second goal was a contentious penalty (although Cathcart’s challenge on Kokorin was clumsy). They will demand more against Luxembourg tonight.
Under Nigel Worthington Northern Ireland failed to change their defensive game when they played weaker opponents, or to dominate possession. O’Neill’s task this evening is to show that his side knows how to play against minnows, as well as sides like Russia.
On a tangent, the trip to Moscow, via Kazan and Nizhny Novgorod was amazing. But that's for another day.