Northern Ireland defender Michael Smith believes one goal could break open the floodgates for Michael O’Neill’s side after their struggles in front of goal continued in Dublin on Thursday night.
Gavin Whyte and Jordan Jones were both denied while one-on-one with Republic goalkeeper Darren Randolph while Smith himself sent a good chance just over the crossbar in the 0-0 friendly draw.
The result continued a frustrating pattern for O’Neill’s side, who have scored just once during their Nations League campaign to date despite creating 46 chances across the three games.
“The goals will come and once the first one arrives, more will arrive,” said Smith, who was making only his second start for Northern Ireland in Dublin.
“It is not as if we are not creating chances, but at the end of the day, we are still creating chances and the goals will come.”
That failure in front of goal means Northern Ireland will suffer relegation in the Nations League regardless of Sunday’s result in their final game against Austria.
While results have not gone their way, Smith believes the competition has helped them work on their new style of play.
“We want to play out from the back and create chances,” he said. “I think it is going well and the team have taken to it very well.
“I am enjoying it 100 per cent and the way we play is more me.”
O’Neill has played down the importance of Northern Ireland’s relegation, saying he is more concerned about preparing for next year’s Euro 2020 qualifiers, with Northern Ireland due to learn their opponents when the draw is made on December 2.
“What does relegation from the Nations League mean?” O’Neill asked. “I don’t think anyone really knows apart from the fact that when this competition comes around again in two years’ time we’re playing in League C.
“But in two years’ time we’ll be trying to qualify for a World Cup rather than the Euros. It hurts us in terms of the play-offs but we’re building a team for qualifying, trying to finish in the top two of a group.
“In the last two campaigns we’ve won a group and finished second.
“I think the team is getting stronger, there’s a youthfulness about it and maybe more pace than there has been.”
O’Neill’s starting line-up in Dublin featured only two changes from their last Nations League outing, a 2-0 defeat to Bosnia and Herzegovina in Sarajevo in October, but he suggested he is likely to freshen things up once again at the weekend.
“We’ll see where we go but what I do have is 28 players – we let Tom Flanagan go back to Sunderland to play on Saturday – but we have 28 players, no withdrawals, there’s a bunch of lads desperate to play.
“It’s a healthy situation to be in. We’ll probably make a few changes for Sunday. I know everyone will be itching to play.”