IT was no wonder Michael O’Neill was smiling as wide as the mouth of the River Lagan at then of Wednesday night’s game.
At last he had broken his hoodoo – nine games without a win.
His tenth game in charge was against the might Russia.
Nobody really gave his Northern Ireland team much of a chance against Fabio Capello’s Russian side.
But O’Neill proved everyone wrong at the end with a Martin Patterson header before half time enough for the victory and three valuable points in Group F.
The manager heaped praise his young battlers who put in a world class performance in front of a packed home crowd at Windsor Park
“We did nothing different that we haven’t done in previous games, but tonight we just had 11 real players on the pitch, 13 for the lads that came on,” he said.
“The work rate of the team and their quality on the ball was excellent.
“You can get carried away but it’s a big result for us, no doubt about that. We were playing against a very, very strong team.
“I think we had six players on the team who’ve had less than 10 starts for Northern Ireland, so that gives an indication of where they are in terms of their development. They were fantastic.”
Captain Steve Davis told Sky Sports: “Russia are the top team in the group, they’re a very difficult team to play against.
“They didn’t give away many chances tonight and I thought we were outstanding, we deserved to win.
“Our performances throughout the campaign, we haven’t really got the result to go alongside them but tonight we managed to do that.”
Goalscorer Paterson added: “It’s a great win against a very strong team.
“International football can be difficult, even at home, so we’re delighted with the win.”