Michael O'Neill must take credit for Northern Ireland qualification
Last Updated: 09/10/15 12:22pm
The Irish Football Association made the correct decision to keep Michael O'Neill as manager, according to former Northern Ireland international Steve Lomas.
Northern Ireland finished second bottom of their qualification group for the World Cup in Brazil last summer but bounced back to qualify for their first European Championships, and first major tournament since 1986, with a 3-1 victory against Greece at Windsor Park on Thursday.
They are now guaranteed a place at France next June and will finish top of Group F if they can take a point from Sunday's final qualifier against Finland in Helsinki.
Sunday's qualification is a remarkable turnaround in fortunes for a side that was ranked 96th in the world just three years ago, and Lomas was quick to heap praise on Northern Ireland's manager.
Speaking to Sky Sports News HQ, Lomas, who was capped 45 times by his country, said: "I think Michael has got to take credit.
"In the bad times he remained calm, looked at the squad and built a system that suits the team. All the players have bought into it.
"All credit Michael, to the backroom staff and also to the IFA who could quite easily have got rid of him after the World Cup campaign. They saw that he was doing good work, the performances were good, even if the results weren't, and they've now reaped the rewards.
"Momentum was important. The first two games, Hungary away and Greece away, were massive. It started the campaign and got the confidence going which has lead on from there."
Former Northern Ireland striker Billy Hamilton also applauded O'Neill's leadership throughout the campaign, as well as the performance of captain Steven Davis, who scored twice on Thursday.
"It's been a great night of football for all concerned," said Hamilton, who was part of the Northern Ireland team that beat hosts Spain at the 1982 World Cup.
"It was the perfect captain's performance [from Davis]. Whenever results weren't going well he never shirked responsibility, he always turned up for us and he's got his rewards now.
"A whole generation of fans have waited a long time to follow their team in a major championship and now Michael O'Neill and his heroes have delivered it for us."