Mark O’Haire’s Euro Tips – Ukraine v Northern Ireland
Ukraine v Northern Ireland
Neither Northern Ireland nor Ukraine managed to pick up a point in their opening Group D matches at Euro 2016, making Thursday evening’s encounter in Lyon pivotal to both nations’ hopes of progressing to the knockout stages.
Ukraine v Northern Ireland, Thursday 16th June 2016, 17.00, ITV1 & TV3
The Green & White Army started with a 1-0 reverse to Poland and head coach Michael O’Neill looked crestfallen at the final whistle. But the Northern Ireland boss could have few complaints about the final scoreline.
Poland dominated the first-half but thwarted by some superb defending from O’Neill’s men,
Northern Ireland made it to half-time level meaning the Green & White Army have now conceded just one first-half goal in their last 21 matches.
Overall the Irish failed to keep enough possession and did not create sufficient chances to trouble the Poles. The underdogs had just two shots, both in the last 30 minutes with neither hitting the target, whilst striker Kyle Lafferty enjoyed more touches in his own box (3) than in the opposition’s (1).
O’Neill decided not to go with the expected 3-5-2 formation, and started with five at the back, switching to four for the second-half. And although Northern Ireland were efficient in shackling Robert Lewandowski for the large majority of the match and hard working in midfield, they were toothless going forward.
During qualification the Irish scored 56% of their 16 goals from set-piece situations and again the Greens attempted to follow the same blueprint – keeping things tight at the back and nicking goals from dead-ball situations.
Road To Recovery
Meanwhile, Ukraine put in a decent performance that troubled world champions Germany at times in their 2-0 defeat. The Yellows had the better opportunities to score in the first-half with Jerome Boateng clearing off the line superbly while keeper Manuel Neuer made several good saves.
Yevhen Konoplyanka threatened for Ukraine but they tired and fell away badly in the second-half as Germany’s possession-game began to tell. Head coach Mykhaylo Fomenko described the Germans as being like ‘a machine’ and he’ll be hoping his weary troops can recover in time.
Ukraine always knew this game against Northern Ireland would be key and with only three defeats in 19 (against Spain x2 and Germany), the Yellows are understandably skinny favourites at 6/10 in the pre-match prices.
But Fomenko will want to see more from Andriy Yarmolenko and Konoplyanka if Ukraine are going to overcome a stubborn Northern Ireland side here. Goals aren’t often the side’s strong point – they managed just 16 in 12 qualifiers en-route, failing to net against Slovakia or Spain – but I’d expect the Zbirna to find a way.
However, there are better value ways in supporting Ukraine. For starters, Northern Ireland have conceded two or more goals just twice in their last 22 outings with 15 of their past 21 featuring fewer than three goals.
The Zbirna saw nine of their 12 qualifiers fail to break the Over 2.5 Goals barrier – two of the three that did came against Luxembourg. In fact, of the 22 goals scored in total across Ukraine’s 12 games, six came in fixtures against Luxembourg, making their remaining 10 games average just 1.60 goals-per-game.
Clearly goals look unlikely to be on the agenda and with Northern Ireland’s past seven defeats all arriving by either the 1-0 (4/1) or 2-0 (11/2) correct scores, a repeat tallies nicely with the trends.
But drill down further and there’s potential to scoop an even tastier price. As already mentioned, the Green & White Army have conceded only one first-half goal in their last 21 matches so entering the Half-Time/Full-Time Correct Score market could well pay dividends here.
Backing the 0-0 half-time correct score along with the 1-0 (15/2) and 2-0 (16/1) Ukraine wins return chunky odds that just can’t be ignored for bold backers.
HT/FT Correct Score – Draw 0-0 Ukraine 1-0 (15/2)
HT/FT Correct Score – Draw 0-0 Ukraine 2-0 (16/1)
*Prices correct at time of publication