NI v Czech Republic

Conor McLaughlin, who signed for the South London club nine weeks ago, has yet to experience a qualifying defeat at the stadium. Of his seven competitive appearances on home soil so far, the attack-minded right back has won five and drawn two. Time flies and memories merge but the fact remains Northern Ireland last suffered a home qualifying defeat almost four years ago to the day. The date was 6 September in 2013 when a Cristiano Ronaldo hat-trick inspired Portugal to a 4-2 win during the 2014 World Cup campaign. Since then Michael O'Neill's men have won six and drawn two of their last eight qualifiers in south Belfast dating back to the start of the Euro 2016 campaign. During the present World Cup campaign the team have put Norway (2-0), Azerbaijan (4-0) and San Marino (4-0) to the sword at the National Football Stadium. McLaughlin is eager to extend the positive sequence in tonight's crucial showdown with the Czech Republic. The 26-year-old, who joined Millwall from Fleetwood Town in July, said: “We've had a lot of success at home and hopefully that continues. All the lads love playing at home and the crowd plays a massive part in that. “Teams don't really like coming to play in Belfast because they know they're going to be under a lot of pressure, not only in terms of how we play but also because the crowd is on top of them. “Confidence is high at home and we now go into these games expecting to win. We approach them expecting to get results.” With Northern Ireland chasing down a second place finish behind Germany in Group C, McLaughlin believes it would be a “massive achievement” to seal a World Cup play-off slot. The eight best runners-up in the nine European qualifying groups will progress to the draw for November's two-legged shootout for Russia.

McLaughlin said: “It would be huge because we were drawn in a pool with a lot of strong teams. It was always going to be a difficult task. “At the start of the campaign we knew we'd probably be one of four teams competing for second spot but we've given ourselves a chance. “We have a tough run-in as we face the Czechs, Germany and Norway in our last three qualifiers but we can't look too far ahead. “Our full focus is on this fixture and it's an important game because the Czechs have been our direct rivals for second place. We'll do everything we can to get the result we need.” McLaughlin admits it was a tough decision ending a five-year association with Fleetwood in the summer, however the lure of Championship football proved too strong. While Town lost in the League One play-offs, Millwall – including Northern Ireland team mate Shane Ferguson – reached the Wembley final where they beat Bradford City. McLaughlin said: “I was at Fleetwood a long time so it was tough leaving but I felt the next step for me was the Championship. I wanted to test myself there. “It's great Shane is also at Millwall and he has helped me settle in. It's been great so far and performance-wise we've been unlucky not to get more wins.”


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