Michael O'Neill says Northern Ireland are improving despite poor Nations League campaign
Watch Northern Ireland vs Austria on Sunday, live on Sky Sports Football and Sky Sports Main Event at 4:30pm
By Matthew Treadwell
Last Updated: 17/11/18 5:07pm
Michael O'Neill says there is plenty to be optimistic about despite a disappointing Nations League campaign that has seen Northern Ireland relegated.
O'Neill's side play Austria at Windsor Park on Sunday knowing they will be a Group C team when the Nations League returns, having failed to pick up a single point from their opening three matches in Group B3.
Bosnia and Herzegovina will top the group with Austria second, but O'Neill has seen enough from his team - including a goalless draw with the Republic of Ireland in Dublin on Thursday when they were unlucky not to win - to suggest they are an improving force as they turn their attentions towards next year's Euro 2020 qualifiers.
"We played the other night with a starting line-up of five core players and six who are in single figures in terms of caps - Gavin Whyte, Liam Boyce, George Saville, Jamal Lewis, Michael Smith and the goalkeeper [Bailey Peacock-Farrell]," he said ahead of the Sky Live clash with Austria.
"We're progressing, those boys are stepping up in international football and playing against a lot more experienced players.
"I've been delighted with how the players have come in. We've got good competition for places in a lot of areas on the pitch, at times we haven't had that.
"So despite the fact the three games have gone against us, we were disappointed to lose the games but I'm not devastated or despondent."
Despite little but pride now riding on the result of Sunday's match in Belfast, O'Neill has promised to select a strong side to take on Austria as they look to build some momentum ahead of the Euro 2020 qualifying draw on December 2.
"I'll pick a team to win the game," he added. "We'll be cautious to an extent, we don't want to lose players.
"A Thursday-Sunday double-header is a challenge but, equally, a lot of players haven't played a lot of club football and they want the games.
"George [Saville], Davo [Steven Davis] and even Jonny [Evans] to an extent have played less than in previous seasons, and Stuart Dallas is only recently into the Leeds team.
"They want the football and they have to get accustomed to playing double-headers.
"I'll pick a team to win the game but I won't take unnecessary risks."
Watch Northern Ireland vs Austria on Sunday. Coverage begins on Sky Sports Football and Sky Sports Main Event from 4:30pm.