Northern Ireland need to find a cutting edge away from home when they take on Bosnia and Herzegovina on Monday night facing the threat of relegation in the Nations League.
Friday’s 1-0 loss to Austria made it five away games in a row in which Northern Ireland have failed to score.
Anything but a win will take the relegation battle out of Northern Ireland’s hands, and that means finding a way of overcoming a Bosnia side who have lost just one of their last 11 competitive matches at home – a 4-3 loss to Belgium in World Cup qualifying.
“There’s no magic formula,” manager Michael O’Neill said. “We need someone to stick the ball in the net, it’s as simple as that.
“We’re challenged a little bit at the moment with the striker situation.”
After Kyle Lafferty withdrew from the squad at the last minute, Liam Boyce missed the Austria game with a knee problem while Will Grigg suffered a hamstring injury after coming on as a substitute.
But Boyce returned to training on Sunday and could be involved to ease O’Neill’s concerns, with Josh Magennis and Kyle Vassell the only other fit strikers.
There has been no shortage of chances for Northern Ireland of late. They created 34 in their two games against Bosnia and Austria but ended up with only one goal.
Captain Steven Davis said that has created a frustration in the squad he wants to take out on Bosnia on Monday.
“Being clinical at this level is the difference,” the Southampton midfielder said.
“Even (against Austria), although we didn’t have as much control in the game, ultimately the best chance fell to me. If I’d have got that it would have put us in front and in a strong position.
“Of course we’re pleased that we’re creating chances, but it’s important that we’re clinical in front of goal.”
Northern Ireland may be running out of chances to save themselves from the drop, but O’Neill reiterated that is a secondary concern as he instead wants to use these matches to develop his team ahead of next year’s Euro 2020 qualifiers.
“I don’t think we have enormous pressure in this competition,” he said.
“I don’t think any country fully understands the implications of promotion or relegation.
“If two years from now we’re in League C it wouldn’t be a disaster for us. The main objective for us is to try to qualify for Euro 2020.”
Northern Ireland have been on the back foot in this competition since they began with a 2-1 home loss to Bosnia last month – a particularly frustrating result given O’Neill’s team enjoyed 67 per cent possession and had 26 attempts at goal.
Nobody is expecting a repeat of those numbers on Monday, but if Northern Ireland could be the ones to capitalise on the break this time around, O’Neill would certainly be happy.
“We would like to have the level of possession we had in Belfast but we don’t think we’ll have that,” he said.
“I think we’ll have to be very strong defensively and the opportunities we get on the counter attack or through our own possession, we have to make sure we do better than we have done in the games so far in terms of turning that dominance into opportunities and goals.”
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