The exit door beckons for O'Neill's unlucky army
Switzerland v Northern Ireland

The exit door beckons for O'Neill's unlucky army

12/11/2017

An abysmal penalty decision handed Switzerland a huge advantage in the first leg and it simply looks too big a task for Michael O'Neill's solid but unspectacular side on Sunday night.

The dream turned sour for Northern Ireland on Thursday night when an awful refereeing decision gave Switzerland a penalty and victory in the first leg of their World Cup playoff.

Unsurprisingly, the fall-out was bitter. And it spilled over to distasteful levels when the wife of Corry Evans - the player who was deemed to have committed a handball offence inside the area - posted a racist tweet about the Romanian referee. That required statements and apologies with the rancour illustrating how quickly a mood can change around the team.

It was a harsh decision but it must be acknowledged that Switzerland's win did reflect the balance of play.

Northern Ireland were always going to set themselves up to be difficult to beat but large parts of the game became an elaborate game of attack vs defence. Michael O'Neill's men were made to look very limited with Switzerland strong defensively and consistently applying pressure. They created clear-cut opportunities, but the sickener for Northern Irish fans was that the penalty incident really did come out of nothing. It has kicked off another debate about the use of video technology.

And now O'Neill's men need something extraordinary

And now they require the performance of a lifetime to turn this around. In the context of Thursday's game, the odds of a home win at 1.45 are fair. In the context of Northern Ireland's overall record under O'Neill, though, the trading price of 11.50 about the away side in Sunday's decider in Basel is slightly insulting.

Switzerland should qualify; it would be a stunning collapse from this position. But actually winning this game in 90 minutes may not be that straightforward. O'Neill's plans have been complicated by a suspension for Evans and an injury to influential winger Stuart Dallas who was struck down early in Belfast and limped through until after half-time. They don't necessarily have the squad depth to be able to withstand such setbacks.

But they are hurting and, with the hosts expected to build on their win and get the job done, the tactically astute O'Neill is capable of sending out a side that can stay in this tie.

He wants his players to use their anger as motivation and across his tenure, his team have shown the resolution to make life difficult for superior opponents. But making life difficult is about as much as they can realistically achieve here. Switzerland are not a betting proposition at 1.45 and there could be trading potential in laying them with a view to backing in-running. There are other bets that are perhaps slightly more appealing.

Get set for a second-half spectacular

If Northern Ireland succeed in maintaining parity on the night until the interval - a scenario that is not implausible - then there will come a point where they have to throw caution to the wind and come out of their shell. That could actually play perfectly in Switzerland's hands and it's no surprise that Draw/Switzerland is a popular enough selection at 4.00 in the Half Time/Full Time market. Defiance can keep Northern Ireland in the tie but once they break from the shape that has carried them this far, they will leave themselves exposed to danger. The Draw/Switzerland outcome is recommended.

Overs could be an in-running play

Under 1.5 was the right bet for the home leg but a different strategy is advised here, although the caveat is that a tight start would make this a potential in-running bet. Northern Ireland have nothing to gain from a respectable scoreline; desperation should kick in as the minutes tick by and a play on Second Half goals is advised. The Over 2.5 is 2.38 and it could well hit a much bigger price in-running if there is a cagey opening. Expect things to open up as the night progresses.

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