Northern Ireland will look for their first win under the leadership of Michael O’Neill on Friday evening as they welcome runaway Group F leaders Russia to Windsor Park for a World Cup 2014 Qualifier.
O’Neill has been in charge of the national team for eight games now and has yet to experience the winning feeling, although his team did secure an impressive draw away from home against Portugal last October.
The 1-1 with the Portuguese was the second of what has now become four consecutive draws for N. Ireland, leaving them within touching distance of Israel and Portugal who are joint second after four games. For all concerned with the Irish though, more surely would have been hoped for than two points from games against Liechtenstein and Azerbaijan.
In the grand scheme of things though recent results for the young Irish squad are encouraging, compared to the 6-0 and 3-0 thrashings they suffered at the hands of the Netherlands and Norway respectively at the tail end of 2012.
Encouraging performances alone won’t be enough though to overcome a strong and confident Russian side that will take to the pitch on Friday evening.
Fabio Capello’s side start this round of international fixtures in an imposing position at the head of Group F as they have the maximum 12 points from their four matches, are yet to concede a single goal and have a five point cushion between themselves and second place.
Russia kicked off their qualification campaign with a 2-0 victory over Friday’s opponents in Moscow and are well backed at 12/25 to repeat that winning performance in Belfast, the hosts on the other hand are long shots for victory at 6/1, their chances of a fifth straight draw though are priced at 3/1 in bwin’s 3-way betting market.
The main reason Northern Ireland are so unfancied is that excellent defensive record of Russia’s, as well as the fact that the Irish have only managed five goals in their past nine competitive games, hardly a record that inspires confidence in their fleet of strikers to penetrate Russia’s mean back line.
The visitors are short priced at 21/20 to win the game with a fifth consecutive clean sheet in competitive action and the odds on Northern Ireland failing to score are even shorter at 18/25.
The next obvious question would seem to be how many will Capello’s side notch up during their visit to Belfast?
Well, in their previous five away games (not counting games at Euro 2012), the Eastern European giant have struck 11 times, opposed to seven from their past five home matches.
The away goals scored work out at an average of 2.2 goals per game, so the top bet on this match is Russia to score twice with bwin offering 12/5 on this very scenario.
New customers that register here and claim a free £20 bet will receive £68 in returns should the bet land.