No benefit in being overly critical – O’Neill

Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill says there is “no benefit” in being “overly critical” of his young squad after a 4-0 defeat in Finland.

Joel Pohjanpalo netted a penalty for the hosts after a close 40 minutes.

Daniel Hakans, Teemu Pukki and Robin Lod added second-half goals.

“When you have a defeat like that, sometimes people can question your character a bit and we have to make sure our character isn’t questioned on Monday night,” said O’Neill.

The defeat in Helsinki was the latest in a bitterly disappointing Euro 2024 campaign.

There were high hopes after O’Neill returned for a second spell in charge, but his inexperienced, injury-hit squad have struggled and their only two wins have come against lowly San Marino.

Missing experienced players such as Steven Davis, Jonny Evans, Stuart Dallas and Bailey Peacock-Farrell, the average age of O’Neill’s 23-man squad for the game in Finland was just 21.2.

Millwall’s George Saville captained the side on his 50th cap and only Paddy McNair and Josh Magennis had made more than a half-century of international appearances.

Northern Ireland created chances before Isaac Price caught Nikolai Alho in the area and Pohjanpalo converted the resulting penalty.

Hakans added a second three minutes after the restart, before substitute Pukki scored a third and set up Lod for a fourth to condemn the visitors to their heaviest defeat of the campaign.

‘A disappointing result’

“I have to recognise the experience that is in this squad,” added O’Neill.

“There is no benefit going in and being overly critical of the players. We’ll look at the game back. As staff we will watch it when we go back to the hotel so we have it prepared to watch with the players tomorrow.

“The only way is to learn from that, to see the margins that are in the game. That’s what we’ll aim to do between now and turning the team around on Monday.”

Second-placed Denmark, who can still qualify for Euro 2024, travel to Belfast on Monday for the final game of Group H.

O’Neill concedes his youthful side must do better if they are to end their campaign on a positive note.

“I’ve had tougher but it was a disappointing result,” he said when asked if the defeat in Helsinki was one of his toughest as manager.

“I thought we did well for 40 minutes and there was very little in the game, and by 48 minutes we were out of the game.

“It just shows you the nature of it. The penalty just before half-time, suddenly you are going in 1-0 down having played well up until that point to contain Finland, and I thought we carried a threat as well.

“We said to the players to make sure we stay in the game and the second goal is poor. We missed three of four tackles and the goalkeeper has to do better as well for the shot.

“Ultimately you are trying to chase the game and it’s very difficult from there.”

O’Neill said his team became “disjointed” after Finland’s second goal and he didn’t want to sit back and accept the result.

“We have to chase it a little bit but we are conscious that you are making yourself a little bit weaker as well,” he added. “That’s the nature of it.

“I didn’t want to just see the game out at 2-0, I wanted to see if we could find a way back in. The third goal is poor again defensively. More missed challenges, not just inexperienced players but experienced players as well.

“We have to do better on the third goal. It’s a great finish from Pukki. The fourth goal, we had thrown a few of the younger players on at that point in time and it’s borderline whether it’s onside or offside, but we became stretched.

“When the game is at 0-0 we are nice and compact and we have a good shape about us. We frustrated Finland and we had our own ways to attack.”